Time to wipe away the whining about paid carers

The quality and quantity of care that’s on offer for older people was unimaginable a couple of generations ago


We need to connect the arm’s-length overclass with the hands-on reality of being a carer, says Stewart Dakers.

Doris, myself and Charlie are in the cafe across from the bus stop discussing the latest care home scandal involving the abuse of residents by carers. The newspapers are full of recriminations, interviews with ministers, Age UK and emoting relatives. It will not be long before I am “in care”, and so I have an interest in such incidents.

It has often appeared to me that there is an unpleasant taste of self-righteousness among the prosecution, and that they are out of touch with the realities of the care situation. Charlie, as usual, does not mess about: “They’re all bloody foreigners, them nurses. Don’t understand our ways.”

He’s spot on, though not in the way he means. The care staff don’t understand our ways, because most of them come from cultures that view the dislocation of elderly people from their families as barbaric.

“But they’re so badly paid,” – Doris is known for her peacemaking in the elderly unit where she lives. She’s right, too; many carers are recruited from minority ethnic groups. Their lives include the chronic stress that comes with interminable deprivation. They live in material conditions considerably less well-furnished than their clients. They leave such homes to attend the most basic of human functions for total strangers: feeding, changing, washing, toileting. Hardly rewarding work, I suggest.

“So?” Charlie ripostes “That’s the job, get on with it. We’re all human after all.”

No, we’re not all human. Rather, the uber-old are a human novelty, a new breed, almost a new species. The mental and physical decline of these very old people produce misbehaviours and ineptitudes that are practically unprecedented. Only two generations back, the octogenarian was the exception. The majority of us departed on time.

I’m well past that biblical sell-by date. I have daily encounters with my unravelling self. It’s not just the physical bits that won’t do what I want, the occasional incontinence; my brain seems to have deserted my mind. The disappearing keys, the forgotten words, the missed appointments are commonplace.

Then there are those moments when I see, too late, from the expressions on the face of family or friend that I have told the story 10 times before; have failed to understand what they are talking about; have dribbled food down my chin; am wearing odd shoes; and, twice now, have tried to get into the wrong house.

This experience of degeneration scares me, and I become irritable, resentful, quarrelsome, demanding, perverse. This hardly improves a personal portfolio already bulging with functional dyspraxia and cognitive degeneration. I am becoming the sort of person whose mess I would not “care” to clean up.

The embattled carer, doing a job they consider inappropriate, and the gabbled patient, blind in mind and boggled in body: such a relationship makes impossible demands on the emotional literacy and sensibility of those recruited to care for us. The fact is that, with occasional exceptions, a disabled European – and old age is the ultimate disability – receives a quality and quantity of contracted care that was unimaginable a couple of generations back.

What is urgently needed is to connect the arm’s-length overclass in the corridors with the hands-on activity on which they pronounce judgment. A day or two on the factory floor, wiping the querulous bottoms, would flush away their self-righteousness and inject some realism into the value they place on doing it. Care is not a commodity to be brokered, it is a disposition to be nurtured.

• Stewart Dakers is a 73-year-old community voluntary worker



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