Low pay shouldn’t mean low value – Why I’m one of the lucky ones
8 min read
04 June 2015
On 28 May, we published an interview with Robert Stephenson-Padron, managing director of Penrose Care, a home care provider based in North London. Stephenson-Padron described the strongly ethical approach his business takes to valuing and supporting its predominantly female staff, and now we're hearing from the other side of the fence.
The Penrose Care approach stands out in a sector where low pay and poor conditions are the norm and have an important impact on the gender pay gap across the economy.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) have recently issued a competitive fund (part of the UK Futures Programme) to support employers to address the issue of inequality in gender pay and opportunity in the adult social care, cleaning and commercial catering sectors.
The problem isn’t just about low pay. It’s also about how low-paid women are valued by their employers, and the opportunities they have to earn, learn and progress in their chosen field. We asked Vanya, one of Penrose Care’s employees, to share her experiences of working at the frontline of adult social care and her advice to employers.
Can you describe your job?
I’m a support worker with Penrose Care. I go to people’s homes to help and spend time with them. It’s a mixture of practical support and companionship. My clients have different needs depending on how mobile they are but typically I might help them with showering, getting dressed, preparing meals and getting out and about.
A big part of what I do is socialising with my clients, finding things to talk about and make them smile. I take them out on trips, and to socialise and it’s especially good when I can take them to places that they know but haven’t been to for a while. I try to do things that make a real difference to them.
To do my job well it’s important that I have a good sense of humour and a positive outlook, even when I might be worried by things going on in my personal life. Being patient is really essential – without that forget it! I have to combine being very responsible with being creative. For example, if someone is being a bit difficult or negative, you have to find creative ways to encourage them. It’s vital to be a good communicator, not just with clients themselves but also with their families and with Penrose so that everyone knows what’s going on. Sometimes I take pictures of the things we’ve been doing to share with everyone. It’s really helpful to be able to encourage each other in this job.
How do you feel about adult social care and the value placed on what you do?
I enjoy my work. I know how important what I do is and I feel really appreciated by the people I support. Clients tend to get very attached to their support worker and it makes the whole day worth it when they thank me for what I’ve done.
In terms of the job itself, it’s difficult looking after someone else. You have to put a lot of energy into it. The challenges tend to be more mental and emotional than physical and you have to have emotional support yourself. I get that from my family, but I’m lucky that I get it from my employer too. I know they care about helping me do my job well.
Read more from our gender equality focus:
- Google’s latest diversity numbers confirm it has “a long way to go”
- We need new tools to stamp out the hardy perennial of gender inequality at work
- A new generation of women in business: Three CEOs explain why raising aspirations is vital
What challenges or disadvantages have you, or women you know, faced working in the care sector?
Some of my friends who are care workers don’t know how much work they’ll have from one week to the next. And money can be really tight if you’re on minimum wage, which lots are. Most people end up working long hours, which is really hard if you don’t know when your next shift will be. I’ve experienced it myself in previous roles – I’d get a call early in the morning and be told I had to go and make visits out of the blue. It was very stressful. I definitely didn’t have the same enjoyment of my job back then.
How does the approach of Penrose Care to its staff compare with other employers you have worked for or know about?
There are a lot of agencies in this sector, and they aren’t especially qualified to provide good care to people. Too many women doing my job are unlucky with their employer. They don’t get paid properly and they don’t get good support. The companies they work for seem to be disorganised, constantly changing shifts and making unreasonable demands of their employees.
Penrose Care is different. I know a month in advance what my roster is, so I know what hours and which days I’ll be working. I get paid the London Living Wage so money is much less of a struggle. And I know that the management care about their staff as well as their clients. I think Penrose does it this way because they see the benefits of having a great team. It just makes sense that you do a better job when you feel secure and you enjoy what you’re doing. I feel like part of a team even when I’m out doing my visits.
We all use WhatsApp so we communicate all the time. And we have monthly meetings where everyone gets together. I feel confident that I can offer suggestions to Penrose Care about how I might improve things for my clients and I’ll be listened to. Even if my ideas don’t get taken up at least I know my voice counts.