Joining the caring profession in the midst of a pandemic has been a challenging experience

The job sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. Many people are now working from home, on furlough, or out of work altogether. I have personally experienced all three since the lockdown began in March of last year. I’ve gone from journalism student to care worker in a few short months, via furlough, universal credit and desperation. And my story’s not unusual.

When the pandemic hit, I was living in Ireland and in my last year of university. I was furloughed from my part-time job and was unable to complete those final months of study. After moving to the UK, I no longer qualified for furlough, so I was in a pretty serious financial situation. Miraculously, I was offered a full-time position as a care worker late last year. 

I’d originally applied for the position out of desperation. I’d spent months applying for every communications job I could find. But without the financial stability to consider an unpaid internship, and without the workplace experience most roles required, my hundreds of applications came to nothing. I ended up on jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit.

I’d often seen carer jobs advertised, but never applied. I doubted whether I could cope with the long shifts and whether I’d have the necessary experience to even be considered. These questions played on my mind, but the one that scared me the most was, “How can I care for other people?”. 

Let me explain: I’ve always seen myself as a very caring person; I like to make others happy and I hope I support my friends and family when they’re struggling. But in care work, people rely on you and you are responsible for their wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. I was scared of making a mistake, and so never even considered applying. And yet, the pandemic brought with it desperation. I needed to support my family and myself financially, and I needed a reason to leave the house before I went insane!

I considered withdrawing my application. But now I can say for sure that taking this job has been one of the best things to happen to me since the pandemic hit. For anyone else considering a caring job, let me share my experiences and the pros and cons of this area of work.

Commuting

This is one of the many roles that still require you to travel to and from work. Working as a carer means early mornings and late nights, but it’s a welcome change of scenery and it’s great to feel like I have somewhere to be. I like the routine of it and the opportunity to see something other than my own living room. 

Granted, commuting also comes with some big cons. Thanks to the countless times my driving test has been cancelled over the last year, I have to rely on other people for transportation. I’m lucky that I’m only an hour and 30-minutes away on foot, which means if I can’t get a lift from a colleague or my parents, I can walk or cycle. But in extreme rain or snow this isn’t always a pleasant experience.

The covid restrictions can also be difficult. With the ever-changing rules on car-pooling and transportation, there have been many occasions where I’ve been unsure who I’m allowed to travel with and – more importantly – whether my travel arrangements might compromise the safety of those I care for. 

Work-life balance

The work does take a toll. Like many other similar roles, the shifts can be crazy long and some days it’s difficult to find 30 minutes to even have a sit down. By the end of a 12-hour shift, you’re normally physically and mentally drained. 

Getting back late in the evening means having less time with your family, and less energy to make an effort in the time you do have. If you work extra shifts, you might not sleep in your own bed for two or three days a week and might only pass your partner or kids in the hall as you get back from work and they leave for the day.

Thankfully, I have a partner who supports me and takes great care for me. I couldn’t tell you how many times he texted me to check I’m doing okay, or how many mornings I’ve come home to a wonderful welcome and a prepared breakfast. We miss each other, sure, but we work as a team to make a special effort. I end up apologising frequently for how much I work and how often I’m away from home, but he does his best to let me know it’s okay, and I will never forget that.

Furlough

An obvious benefit of having a full-time job is having regular wages. Jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit didn’t even come close to covering the cost of our rent and bills. Like many people, one of my biggest worries has been whether we’d have the money we need to survive, or enough savings in case of an emergency. 

Which is why to be on a payroll is a huge weight off my shoulders. The pay is still low, but it’s higher than minimum wage and especially working extra shifts or nights you do end up better off than in some jobs.

Essential work

Entering a caring profession in the midst of a pandemic has been a challenging experience. It’s not only you struggling, but the residents too. Many miss their families, friends, or even just visiting other places. It may not be quite the same job as doctors and nurses, but with the emotional and physical support carers provide, it’s no wonder they’re classed as essential workers. 

We always have to be conscious of keeping these vulnerable people safe – wearing PPE and having weekly covid tests to this end. We make an effort to regularly update friends and loved ones, either over the phone or on video call. We’re also always trying to plan activities and find new and exciting ways to keep residents occupied, and to give them some happiness at a time when many are feeling very low.

Care homes have been hard hit by the pandemic. Not a day goes by without them featuring in the news. But the people I’ve met in this field of work have shown me how much difference ‘caring’ makes, and I’m proud to work alongside them.

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