I love my job, my team and the people I support. But we’re totally undervalued, despite the vital work we do caring for vulnerable people. Sometimes feel like I’m just a number, not a human being at all.
Friday’s Court of Appeal decision is a kick in the teeth. I’m being paid the minimum wage for my sleep-in shifts, but I’m worried my employers now won’t continue doing this.
I’m already doing extra hours because if I relied on my basic salary it wouldn’t be enough. Most of my colleagues live hand to mouth, and have nothing left at the end of the month.
My wife and I are also trying to save for a mortgage. But the judgment means we may not get back pay for the sleep-in hours we’ve already done, but weren’t paid properly for.
That should have been around £3,000 – my wife was devastated when I told her we might not be getting that now.
My managers have said that we should go and work in McDonald’s if we don’t like it. We feel so disposable because our employer can always use agency workers, although that will end up costing them twice as much.
A typical shift starts at 3pm. We have to make sure the laundry is done, cook meals for the residents, and make sure everyone has had their medication, then put everyone to bed.
There’s lots of paperwork – each resident has a daybook that needs filling in. Then we do fire alarm checks and ensure the money tins for each person are correct. We have to work with services like court–appointed trustees to do banking for the people we support.
My sleep-in shift starts at around 11pm. We’re caring for people with a range of issues including behaviour-related problems. There’s one gentleman who goes to bed at 8pm, but could then be up at 11.30pm if he’s distressed and upset. That means I have to be up to ensure he’s ok.
Some have seizures during the night. By the staff sleep-in bed there’s a monitor that bleeps if a resident is in distress. In reality though, you’ll be woken up by them screaming loudly.
The room where we spend the night isn’t exactly comfortable, and some staff can’t sleep when they’re away from their families anyway. There’s always a lot of disruption and in the summer the noise really carries.
On a sleep-in, I’d be disciplined if I left the premises. One of my biggest fears is there being an emergency at home during the night like a family member dying. If I couldn’t get cover I’d have to choose between the people I look after or my family.
We work Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. I’m recently married and plan to have children – and if I carry on doing this job, sleep-ins are likely to have a huge impact on my home life. Any childcare responsibilities would then fall to my wife because I wouldn’t be around for 24 hours at a time.
There’s many occasions that I’ve got up for a 7am start after a sleep-in and colleagues haven’t turned up for work.
You then end up rushing around like a headless chicken, giving out medication after a disrupted night’s sleep. Then you’ve got another 13-hour shift ahead of you. Care workers who are tired are not going to give their best.
My worry is that the judgment means that care workers like me won’t get a penny in back pay and care providers may simply go back to paying flat rates for sleep-in shifts.
If that’s the case then my colleagues and I may reluctantly have to find new careers, and give up on the jobs we love.
David, is a care worker from Suffolk in his 20s, who does sleep-in shifts