Birmingham council’s homecare workers are not taking proposed changes to their contracts lying down. But who are they? And why exactly are they fighting so hard?
Earlier this year, Birmingham City Council announced plans to slash the hours of homecare staff working for its enablement service. The changes would mean some staff have their working hours cut from 37 hours to just 14 – so a worker who currently earns around £18,000 a year could lose up to £11,000.
The council also want to enforce a new shift pattern which the staff say will be unmanageable. Three split shifts a day, from 7-10am, 12-2pm and then 4-10pm. Many staff will not be able to get home between shifts and, if they do, it won’t be long before they must leave again, which means those unpaid hours are not much of a break.
Staff fear the pattern could make them tired or unwell, which could lead to mistakes being made in the care of older, vulnerable people. It will also have a detrimental impact on family life.
November will mark Sharon Lawrence’s 15-year anniversary of working in homecare. She “absolutely loves” her job, because she gets to see people progress from their most vulnerable. “The bad ones, so to say, come out of hospital and really can’t do anything for themselves and we’ve got weekly work with them, and at the end of the six weeks we’ve seen a massive change.”
Like many of the homecare workers, Sharon is a mother, and the change in hours will have a profound impact on her family. This summer, because of the uncertainty around her income, she has not been able to do her usual family activities.
“We’re normally going away doing little camping trips and days out and stuff, but I haven’t been able to do any of that because I don’t know what the future holds,” she says. Sharon looks painfully at her young daughter. “I don’t know whether she’s going to have any Christmas presents to open this year, I really don’t know.”
Sharon and the rest of the team do a vital job. When people – mostly the elderly – come out of hospital, they need extra support and care to readjust to living at home. That’s where the enablement team come in. They are trained, experienced, homecare workers who know exactly how to support people when they need it the most. But they are not being supported by their employer.
Gillian is a single mother of a five-year-old boy, and she describes her situation in blunt terms. “There’s no way I can survive on part time hours. People work full time for a reason.”
Millicant Gale has been working as a homecare worker in Birmingham for 32 years. She is concerned about the growing reliance on private homecare providers, because she has heard complaints that they don’t offer enough training to staff and they don’t let workers spend enough time with patients. “I’ve seen a lot of deterioration and a lot of changes,” Millicant says.
Karen Eastwood is another homecare worker with a lot of experience. She has been doing the job for 29 years, and over that time the responsibility has increased: “There have been lots of changes since I started, it was all housework and shopping and now it’s mostly personal care, medication.” Karen is proud of the service and wishes her bosses would value the job they do. “It’s such a good service, all our service users never want us to go even though we only do six weeks with them.”
Dawn Hammond cared for her grandmother, and then her mother, before making homecare her job 17 years ago. She’s worried about the drop in pay, “I live on my own so basically my income’s going to go or I will be made redundant… we don’t know what the council have got in store for us.”
Government cuts to local authority budgets have led to Birmingham City Council slashing the home care/enablement budget by 40%, because the council must save around £2m.
The positive news is the group are not taking these proposed changes lying down. They are rallying, organising, and striking, and they have the full support of their union.
As the women say: “We are all going to stick together. They’re trying to enforce these draconian rotas on us and we’re not standing for it, because we’ve got children.”