Workers and their families should not have to rely on public donations if they are hurt or killed on the job.
But I became absolutely furious when I found out how directly elderly deaths are connected to the increased financialization of everyday life and the almost complete absence of care within the structures of the caring system in the UK.
The government has outsourced residential adult care and most provision is privatized. Many care homes are owned by hedge funds that operate on high-risk, high-return principles, expect a 12 percent annual profit, avoid tax payments, and either flip the companies once the profit has been stripped or load the company with debt in order to leverage more debt for other activities.
And it’s not just care homes that have been turned into financial derivatives. Dan Neyland’s research at the University of London details how children at risk have also been turned into an investment proposition.
I began to ask how can we let this happen?
How can our most vulnerable social groups be subject to such brutal profit making? What does it say about our humanity if defenseless and dying people are monetized? How low can we go?
My mum had many disabilities and her caring needs were extensive so she was more costly to care home providers, and hence less profit could be extracted from her. This generated enormous difficulty to find any care home who would take her. A “regular” elderly care home resident was much more profitable.
For humans, the crisis is a lack of care. For these companies, the crisis is the potential drop in profits.
Even though nurses are paid a shockingly low wage for the incredibly hard work they do, care workers are paid even less. Therefore it’s much easier to make profit from cheaper care workers who don’t provide nursing care. They require minimal training, and most are on “zero-hours” contracts, which allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work. Employees work (and get paid) only when they are needed, often at short notice. The working conditions to which most care workers are subject are shockingly poor.
Yet research I did previously with care workers showed how most find that the act of caring provides a key source of value in their lives. Lydia Hayes’ research revealed similar subject formation; to care for others matters to their own sense of who they are. But their personal investment in being caring means they are more open to exploitation as they do not want to neglect and abuse people. They actually want to care — in stark comparison to the companies that just want to make money.
The conditions in which they work means that their belief in the value of what they do makes their work very difficult. They often feel really compromised, as they have so many people to care for, so much to do in such little time. It’s difficult to sustain a positive caring attitude in the conditions in which they work.
This is even more compromised for the mobile care workers, who are employed by care agencies whose main interest is also profit. With 15 minutes per visit, constantly tracked through their mobile phones, they race through the day, increasing their guilt as they go. This is why the turnover is so high and why there are still 90,000 vacancies for care work advertised every day. They want to care but the conditions make it impossible for them to do so.
Little has changed since I first wrote about my mum’s death last year. More worrying is how the interests of the privatized, financialized care companies have become the dominant narrative that shapes the “crisis of care.” The companies claim they are not paid enough to provide adequate provision, yet if they were not using care homes as a virtual ATM — extracting high profits (12 percent at a minimum) — quality care could easily be provided by workers who want to and actually care.
For-profit enterprises damage care provision, killing the elderly as they pursue more capital, and then they claim state support after their high-risk strategies have not paid off and they are close to collapse. And when the ineffectual state pumps more and more money into funding these excessive profits and risks, which are based on not caring for people, our tax is transferred almost directly into hedge funds.
For humans the crisis is a lack of provision, a lack of care. For these companies the crisis is the potential drop in their profits.
When will people realize that we are the ones who will suffer? I would rather die than experience what my mum experienced. Is this an inadvertent result? If we kill ourselves through dread, the demand will likely become reduced and the steady flow of profit into privatized companies can be maintained. Why have government ministers, most of whom are elderly and about to hit the humiliation of current caring provision, done so little? Their personal wealth will make little difference. Don’t they understand how much financialization has encroached into our everyday lives? It’s neglect by the inept.
Do they care?
Originally published on the Atlantic Fellows Blog.