Fighting for the Frontline
The frontline of social care can be a lonely place. Care workers are required to give so much of themselves to others, far too frequently for pay that falls below a living wage. The Care Workers Charity was established to provide financial aid to carers on an individual basis. As the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the issues at the heart of care, the Care Workers Charity has responded. They launched the Coronavirus Care Workers Fund a month ago to help support vulnerable care workers. We sat down with Karolina Gerlich, executive director of the Care Workers Charity, to find out more.
Get Down with CWC
The primary aim of the Care Workers Charity is to act as a benevolent fund to support Care Workers in financial crises. Over the last few years the charity has been providing crisis grants to care workers. These grants are for basic needs such as rent and food as well as unexpected costs.“Because the majority of care workers are on low pay very often they don’t have any savings to manage those financial situations,” Karolina explains. These emergency funds provide a lifeline to carers who feel like they are drowning. Typically these grants take a few weeks to get confirmed, with the funds being determined on a case by case basis. However, as we saw across the sector, COVID-19 required the Care Workers Charity to reimagine the way they operated.
Establishing the Coronavirus Care Workers Fund
When coronavirus started to spread across the UK, the Care Workers Charity recognised the vulnerability of care workers. Alongside low pay, care workers are four times more likely to be on a zero-hour contract than the average worker. This lack of certainty means that most care workers live paycheck to paycheck. This is an especially precarious position when contracting COVID-19 means mandatory isolation for at least two weeks.
“In the last month we have started a separate fund specifically to address COVID-19 issues”, Karolina says. “So that’s looking at supporting Care Workers who are shielding for 12 weeks, self-isolating for 2 weeks, or sick with COVID -19. For however long you are not getting any pay or only statutory sick pay. Again, because they are on low pay losing two weeks of full wages can have catastrophic consequences. So we are making sure that they can access £500 grants to tide them over. So they don’t have to go hungry or be unable to pay their bills and then be expected to go back to work and carry on.”
Accelerating the Application Process
The Care Workers Charity have done everything they can to expedite the process of applying for their crisis grants. Standard grants take a few weeks and require a certain amount of evidence. Crisis grant applications simply require confirmation from your employer’s HR department or a comparable body. And that’s it.
“The Coronavirus care workers fund is separate because that money is ring fenced to go to COVID-19 applicants,” Karolina explains. “And we have simplified the application process there. All we require is that kind of formal confirmation from HR – as soon as we get it we’re paying out grants. For people who have had speedy responses from HR we have been able to pay out grants the next day to them. Which is very important: this is a quick delivery system to ensure people get the money when they need it.“
“The severity of the situation has increased demand significantly. 20-25% of the workforce have been affected. The way that we support through that grant in the sector, we’ve had a 1000% week on week increase in demand compared to last year. In the first two and a half weeks we had approved grants with the same amount of money as we did in all of last year,” said Karolina.
This incredible demand speaks to the necessity of the Coronavirus Care Workers Fund. It has become a tentpole for the tentpoles currently holding up our social care system. As such, any and all donations or charitable actions are welcome.
Increasing Recognition for Social Care
One key issue that has been raised by this crisis is the public perception of social care. For a long time care workers felt like the forgotten cousin of the healthcare system.
“[Social care] was in a terrible state before the crisis,” Karolina says. “I think that what this crisis is really showing is what this kind of chronic underfunding really does and what are the terrible consequences of it. So that needs to be reviewed and drastic changes have to be made.”
“What people don’t understand is that social care and health care budgets are separate. That social care and health care cannot exist without each other, and social care is as important as healthcare. But it is nowhere near funded to [the same] extent, or supported to that extent.”
Joining the Fight
Without adequate support for frontline care workers, the entire healthcare system could collapse. Aftercare for patients discharged from hospitals is already a pressing issue, one we have to assume will only increase as more people leave hospital but still require care. This will place a huge strain on a sector already stretched to breaking point. Social care will shape the history of COVID-19, but just perhaps, it appears the inverse could also be true. Karolina says:
“There is a huge educational piece to be done around social care. There has needed to be one for a long time but there was never really a push or an interest around that. I think what this crisis is going to do is hopefully make sure that that finally happens and wider society and the government itself learns more about social care.”
Whether a wider understanding and appreciation of social care happens or not is unknown. Clapping alone isn’t enough, it’s time we show our lonely care workers some love.
Preferably the kind of love that folds into your wallet.