Low paid carers call for change
“It’s time for change,” says Andrene, who has worked in the same care home for the last 17 years. Andrene is one of several care-workers and cleaning staff employed by The Sidney and Ruza Last Foundation at the Yehoshua Freshwater Centre, otherwise known as Sage care home in Golders Green, who organised a three-day strike in February demanding a living wage of £12 per hour, trade union recognition, full sick pay and annual leave in line with NHS rates. February’s strike followed previous action in January.
Bile, a French-born care worker who has worked at Sage for seven years, says that the pandemic was the last straw. After “living on poverty wages” between £8.72 and £9.60 per hour - below the recommended London Living Wage of £10.75 per hour - and still arriving to work “with a smile”.
Andrene and Bile agree that carers “are treated as disposable”. However, Bile says, they are anything but. Everyone, he says, even “people in power”, like the politicians who are the gatekeepers to raise the minimum wage, will age. Thinking of this makes him question why carers are not given the material compensation that would see their work valued.
The strikers are supported by the grassroots union United Voice of the World (UVW). Molly de Dios Fisher, a UVW organiser, explained that Sage trustees did not respond to workers' concerns after the first round of strike action but met with workers before the second strike. Molly said, “the meeting itself seemed really positive”. She was moved, “listening to our members speak”. One member who has worked at Sage for 15 years told trustees that he is still paying back the loan he withdrew to cover six months of living costs when he was on sick-leave.
Molly is concerned that there has been no attempt to make contact since the meeting.
In a statement to Barnet Post Sage said:
“Sage is a small registered charity which is overseen by volunteer trustees who are recruited to provide their skill and acumen (not as a bank facility). Sage runs a single care home that is not operated to generate a profit and it relies upon donations: it has the stated aim to make 60% of its accommodation available at all times to persons who cannot afford to pay the full fees charged. (...)
Like many in the care sector, Sage is battling with the consequences of Covid19: severe operational challenges, increased costs and the tragic loss of a third of its residents (and hence also a substantial loss of income). Against this background, the union is encouraging a series of unrealistic demands which the charity cannot afford and which could, if implemented, lead to the closure of the care home…”
Sage’s financial status has become a point of contention. Molly says the trustees “are not transparent about their finances”. UVW want to know if they have cash reserves, or appealed for funding, grants and donors to help them make a settlement.
Questions have now been raised about the role local councils should take in care of the elderly. Molly told Barnet Post:
“Barnet Council gives Sage Nursing Home in the region of £400,000 per year.
Sage is a Nursing Home in Barnet, housing Barnet residents (...) The Council has a duty to make sure that social care is adequately run and funded.
It is true that the care sector is chronically underfunded (...) this situation has to be addressed by the central government, local Councils and care home providers.
Sage is arguing that public funds have to increase in order to increase staff conditions. The council is arguing that Sage is a private nursing home, and they cannot intervene in the dispute. At the moment we are in a Bermuda triangle where nobody who funds or oversees the home is taking responsibility for addressing the material and practical concerns of these frontline workers.
Whilst we understand that council budgets are often stretched, there are numerous examples of misuses of public money in Barnet Council that would be much better spent on social care.”
With no resolution currently in sight, the strike continues to generate interest and concern. Bile and Andrene say the action is supported by many local residents - and that families of those they care for were shocked to hear about their low wages. The Jewish community at Edgware synagogue was made aware of the dispute in a sermon from student Rabbi Lev Taylor who said:
“What an insult (…) that this care home calls itself Jewish, and says it serves the Jewish community! Who in the Jewish community is it serving? (...) It definitely does not serve our elderly and vulnerable family members if it puts them and their carers in danger”.