How a social carer was “God’s gift” to Margaret Thatcher
Brendan Martin, 11 April 2013
No doubt I am getting soft with the advancing years, but I was touched by the photograph of Margaret Thatcher sitting on a park bench with her carer -- identified only as a New Zealander called Kate --in today's Guardian newspaper.
Perhaps this was because it reminded me of sitting with my mum on a park bench near her home during her final years, and of the care workers who nursed her so well in her final months.
In the article accompanying the Guardian picture, one of Thatcher's closest friends, Lady Powell, is quoted as saying that carer Kate would read to Thatcher and keep her mind going. "She was God's gift to Margaret Thatcher", Lady Powell was reported as commenting.
God doesn't send care workers, in fact. It might seem that way, because the work they do is so important, and enhances many a life, as Lady Powell acknowledges.
But they have to look after themselves too, which means they have to be paid. And the irony is that the service is largely privatised and staffed by workers whose terms and conditions amount to one of Margaret Thatcher's most lasting legacies.
A survey conducted by the public service union Unison last year found that four out of five respondents "reported that their work schedule is arranged in such a way that they have either have to rush their work or leave a client early to get to their next visit on time".
Most "did not receive set wages, making it hard to plan and budget", and were not paid for travelling time between clients, "potentially a breach of the minimum wage law".
More than half also reported deterioration in their terms and conditons in the preceding year, and nearly half were "not given specialist training to deal with their clients' specific medical needs, such as dementia and stroke-related conditions".
I'm guessing that Thatcher's carer Kate had received such training, which no doubt contributed to the quality of the care she provided right to the end.
You can take equality too far, and I don't argue that we should all be entitled to see out our last months at the Ritz hotel (even in the unlikely event that we would want to).
But here's my proposal to Lady Powell: will you join with us in working to bring about the transformation in social care required to ensure every older person can enjoy the compassionate and professional care enjoyed by Margaret Thatcher?
Or are you content that "God's gift" should be reserved for the rich and privileged, while those without Thatcher's means struggle on with low pay and inadequate services?