Self-isolating UK care workers face debt and hunger, warns charity

Clare Horton
Photograph: Rex

Care workers are facing hunger and hardship as they go into self-isolation, a charity has warned.

Karolina Gerlich, executive director of the Care Workers’ Charity, said she had heard from a number of care workers who were struggling.

“Many care workers live pay cheque to pay cheque,” she said. “Many were already on the poverty line before the virus situation. We are hearing of people going hungry.

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“Care workers are terrified. There is pressure from every possible angle. People are scared and are being put in the position of having to decide whether they go to work thinking they may have the virus, otherwise their children will go hungry. They are in an impossible situation.”

The charity announced on Thursday it is launching a £1m emergency appeal to support care workers during the coronavirus crisis. It aims to raise enough to give £500 grants to 2,000 individuals.

From next week, care staff, personal assistants and support workers will be able to apply to the charity for grants if they are unable to work because they are self-isolating.

A number of care workers have gone into self-isolation for 12 weeks because of underlying health conditions, said Gerlich.

She said she hoped the appeal would highlight the role care staff were playing to support vulnerable people during the outbreak.

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“The NHS keeps getting talked about,” she said, “but social care is doing the same for longer hours with more risk. Social care workers are sacrificing their health to support people. The least we can do is ensure they are not going into debt.”

Gerlich said some care staff had not had their children accepted in school sessions for key workers’ children, and so were having to find and pay for extra childcare. Others have been refused access to key worker shopping sessions in supermarkets.

As well as appealing for donations from the public, the charity is asking companies to contribute and has suggested that chief executives could give a proportion of their salaries for the next three months.

The appeal was launched as the GMB union warned the coronavirus crisis could lead to the total collapse of the care system. It said care staff were being left with no protection against the virus, no childcare and poverty sick pay if they become infected.

Kelly Andrews, the union’s care lead, said: “Despite being on the frontline, and utterly vital to stop our society from crumbling, they are on minimum wage, with unpaid breaks and are unable to rely on schools for childcare.

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“And to rub salt in the wound, if they become ill they either have to try and support their families on poverty sick pay – or turn up to work ill which could be a death sentence for residents.”

The GMB is calling for all care staff to receive full pay during the outbreak.

Donations to the appeal can be made via the Care Workers’ Charity’s website or a JustGiving page.