Care workers beginning to crack under the strain

Care workers often feel they can't cope. Picture: Esme Allen
Care workers often feel they can't cope. Picture: Esme Allen
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FRONT-LINE care workers in the Capital are facing a daily battle with exhaustion, according to a major new report.

The document, called Keep the Vital Spark, found much more support was needed for those working with the homeless, addicts, the mentally ill and poverty-stricken.

More than 70 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women dealing with vulnerable people said they were left physically exhausted by their work.

Levels of emotional strain are also soaring, the research revealed, with 43 per cent of men and half of all women affected.

More than one in ten people based in the sector always or often think they can no longer cope in their work.

Author Ruth Campbell, director of Edinburgh-based Comas, which helps people recovering from addiction, said: “There’s a combination of factors at work here.

“One is that people are doing a difficult job with lots of changes on the horizon due to welfare reform and pressure on housing, and issues such as homelessness.

“Then people who are working in charities are themselves facing an uncertain future because contracts tend to be short now and many people don’t actually know whether they will have a job in six months’ 

Based on a survey and interviews with staff in various 
Edinburgh-based organisations, the report also found that working with individuals in crisis and hearing about their traumatic experiences only added to already high levels of emotional stress.

Public funding pressures, resulting in greater uncertainty about long-term employment prospects, were identified as “tipping points” by a fifth of all staff.

“What has happened is that, in real terms, public sector budgets have remained the same but needs are growing constantly,” said Ms Campbell.

“It’s not so much that there are cuts but that services now tend to be commissioned as cheaply as possible, meaning people aren’t able to be as effective in their jobs.”

Political and care sector leaders said the research highlighted the need for new support measures.

Councillor Elaine Aitken, Conservative member for Colinton/Fairmilehead and chair of Oxgangs Care, which provides elderly support and sure start services, said: “I would say the council needs to look very carefully at how we can help alleviate the situation.”

Councillor Paul Edie, leader of the Capital’s Liberal Democrats, said: “I think people managing these projects need to look at these results to see what they could do to become exemplary employers.”

Lothians Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “I do think that those working within this sector are often undervalued and underpaid for the work they do within such a stressful ­environment..”

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said: “The fact that there’s such a high percentage points to two things – that the job is impossible and often not well designed and that as practitioners, they haven’t been given the sort of training they need.”