In the autumn of 2015, I made a dramatic change in my working life. I joined the third sector as an outreach worker for a well known international charity who turned out to be a shower of bastards, the British Red Cross. My job was to visit lonely people in Bath and North East Somerset and work with them to come up with solutions in order to reintegrate them with the community. I also found myself visiting people to provide short term company or respite care for desperate relatives. I did not provide personal care but I met those who did. All of the workers I met earned even less than I did. Uncomplainingly, they would assist people with everything from eating, washing and toilet visits. My mother and stepfather were in care before they died so I knew what to expect but at the time I had no idea the staff were so poorly rewarded. I do now.
All the same, I marvelled at their professionalism, despite being treated as unskilled paupers. I never saw anyone cut corners or show disrespect the people they visited. The commitment was deep and inspiring. If it took me a while to appreciate how wonderful these people were, it appears our prime minister still doesn’t.
“Too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures,” said Johnson. “It was their fault thousands of people were returned, untested for COVID-19, to die in care homes. Nothing to do me, guv,” he didn’t add, but should have done.
“Ah yes,” replied Matt Hancock, although he didn’t use all these words. “What Dominic Cummings…er…Boris Johnson actually meant was that because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known.” Care staff, said Hancock, had done “amazing work” but the government had to blame someone and certainly not him. He was, after all, only the secretary of state for health and social care.
Of course, Johnson won’t apologise. If he gunned down children in a hospice, it would be someone else’s fault. And half the country, along with much of the media, would say, “Well done, Boris.”
Care workers are a special breed. A class apart as human beings. Their entire raison d’être is to care for people and make their lives bearable. Often, they are the only people those who need the care will ever see. If you cannot wash yourself or carry out toilet duties yourself, then just imagine relying on someone else and then getting to know and – here I am not exaggerating – to love them? And this, until the minimum wage increased in April, for £8.21 an hour if you were over 24, but £4.35 an hour if you were under 18. And you know what? Most of the care workers I met love what they do. The last thing they want is for their clients to suffer harm and they will have been horrified to find the prime minister blaming them.
It could be that, during the public inquiry that will surely follow, it will be revealed that care homes might have done better. I doubt that anyone will come out of this smelling of roses except, I have to say, the frontline workers who, it felt for long periods, were abandoned by a prime minister and government that was asleep at the wheel when COVID-19 arrived in the UK.
We should not blame the the low paid frontline workers. Instead, we should look more closely at the liars, shysters and spivs who now run our country. Careworkers are heroes and the illiberal elite are the villains. That’s as near to being a fact as it’s possible to be.