Care workers’ union warns of mental health crisis

April 26, 2021

GMB, the care workers’ union, has warned of a looming care workers’ crisis as new research found that three-quarters of care workers have experienced worsened mental health, as a result of their work during the pandemic.

The survey included findings from 1,200 social care workers and 75% of respondents reported that pandemic work has caused worsened mental health and a sharp increase in anxiety.

The union has said the Government must ‘step up' and address the mental health crisis In social care.

GMB’s major survey of more than 1,200 care workers conducted between December and January found that:

  • 75% of care workers say that their work during the Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious negative impact on their mental health.
  • Care workers report anxiety levels are almost half as high (44% higher) than all employees in the wider economy.
  • Care workers’ mental health declined throughout the second wave: care workers reported poorer mental health in December/January than at the start of the second wave in September/October.
  • Some groups of care workers were more likely to report poor mental health: women, disabled, residential, and care workers who were only entitled to statutory sick pay all reported lower mental health scores.

Worryingly, the new survey found that care workers’ mental health had declined since the summer. Survey respondents’ scores for happiness had fallen by 12% and self-reported anxiety levels had risen by 6%.

GMB said that low pay, insecure working, and inadequate sick pay were all contributing factors to poor mental health in the sector. The average care worker in England is paid £8.80 an hour and a third of care workers are employed on a zero hours contract, according to figures reported by employers.

The findings are being released to mark the one-year anniversary of the peak in care home residents’ deaths after 1,300 residents died on Easter Sunday 2020 (of which 495 residents were known to have had Covid-19).

GMB is campaigning for higher wages, full sick pay, so care workers can afford to self-isolate, better support from employers including separate recording of mental health absences and national funding for new mental health services for care workers including talking therapy and specialised PTSD support.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer for care, said, ‘Care workers have been asked to make incredible sacrifices during the pandemic and these sobering figures demonstrate the urgent need for better support. Members describe having to nurse much-loved residents as they died from this terrible disease, while all the while worrying about their own safety and how they were going to pay the bills. If any good is to come out of this pandemic, then it must include urgent reform of the sector. Ministers and employers need to explain how they are going to care for the people who have cared for us.

‘As a minimum, this must include dedicated national mental health services, a substantial increase in pay, and full sick pay cover so that care workers can afford to self-isolate when they are ill – no one should be asked to live on £96.35 a week.’

The Care Workers’ Charity launched a Mental Health Support Programme, to support the UK’s social care workforce.

Karolina Gerlich, CEO, The Care Workers’ Charity, said, 'Care workers across the country have shown remarkable bravery and sacrifice in putting their lives at risk, in order to care for others. Many are working in unfamiliar roles and workplaces and face unprecedented stress and trauma. Despite rising rates of anxiety, stress, PTSD and depression, many social care workers are not eligible for bespoke therapy, and those that are, are unable to afford its cost. Without existing support structures in place, they are forced to cope alone.

To bridge this gap, the CWC is providing 10 hours of free Mental Health Support through our partner Red Umbrella. But more needs to be done. Care workers must be properly supported, in the way that they deserve. We can, and must, do better.'

Read comments from some of the care workers that the Care Workers' charity supports.

Visit the Care Workers' Charity website for more information about the Care Workers' Support programme.


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