Men Needed

Perhaps it is unsurprising to learn that the majority of people who work in ‘social care’ are women. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report last week explaining why it was necessary for the sector to reach out and attract more men to the workforce.

stepheye Stepheye at Flickr

Some of the points made will come as no surprise. Care is traditionally  the province of women. For as much as we shout about inequalities and assumptions it cannot be disputed that while there are more male electronic engineers, there are more female home carers.

The report stated how informal care has been provided by women in society over a long period of time. An increase in women moving into the workforce from the latter part of the 20th century has created jobs and a sector in a way that might not have existed previously.

Basic sociological history so far.

One of the reasons given for the massive bias in the gender balance in the care sector is the low pay in the sector. It is less likely to attract men to the sector if the pay rates veer around the minimum wage level. While I think this is a factor, perhaps it isn’t a factor that affects only men and low pay rates probably deter a significant amount of quality applicants and potential carers.

Another reason given was that

Privatisation of residential and domiciliary care has produced a labour market with insufficient opportunities for training and career development. This is unlikely to attract men, and women will increasingly leave as their employment opportunities improve.

This isn’t a point that I see as particularly gender specific but it does raise a lot of questions about the way that social care is delivered and more importantly by whom. I work in a profession that values development and training and willingness to see work on a continuum with learning.

So why should the social care sector, meaning those that deliver hands-on care, should have the training dead end and the lack of opportunities? Why do wages at the residential homes where I place people hover around the minimum wage? (A pay cut was enforced following the privatisation of those homes).

It is seen as a ‘throwaway’ or stop-gap job – something you do when you are looking for a more permanent job. It shouldn’t be.

I always maintain that if a good training programme is in place with ways to advance and develop as well as a sturdy pension plan then the wages can be lower. People will look to benefits if necessary but when there is no added value on top of base salary and organisations rely on the ‘feel good’ factor in members of staff to take lower paying jobs, they are creating a false economy by paying poor wages.

I have to mention that there are many good private companies out there. The ones I, personally, have come across tend to be smaller but there’s no reason a large company cannot be an excellent employer. I am just slightly more sceptical.

Coming back to the Joseph Rowntree Report, they suggest a few ways of moving forward

  • This situation will be unsustainable for meeting society’s care needs unless:
    – pay and conditions improve to retain more women and encourage men to enter the care sector;
    – unpaid carers receive financial and other support, and working hours are reduced for all, so that more people can combine family care with employment;
    – cash payments to individuals are not allowed to drive out funding for vital community services; and
    – policies are judged by the quality of care they support and how much they encourage a stable, less gender-divided workforce, as well as value for money
  • Any other solution would be unworkable, unfair and inconsistent with government commitments to reduce gender inequalities.
  • Sounds fair enough to me!

    Now, just to find some more men..

    10 thoughts on “Men Needed

    1. Staffing is the biggest issue I face. We cannot pay a lot over minimum wage and for the past five years any increase I have received has been passed totally on to the workers.We spend a small fortune on training and yes, people often move on once we have trained them – I don’t really mind that although I do grumble, it means one more well trained worker out there somewhere. The issue of men is difficult – fact is, most of what we do involves personal care and women live longer than men, the difficulty is that men cannot in general do personal care for women so it is hard to employ a balanced workforce. This is a shame, many of our male customers (and some of the females) would benefit from some male workers. I aghree though, given the projected dynamic there will come a day when we just will not have enough staff if something does not change – thought provoking

    2. It’s the same dynamic over here. And the men who do get into the profession inevitably end up in management, thereby no longer providing direct care.

      I’m not sure it’s money. I think it’s the cache that comes along with the job. It’s much better for a man to say he’s a police officer or a fireman (earning about the same amount of money as social workers here) than to say he’s a social worker.

      Just a thought.

    3. Love the picture! Men do tend to gravitate towards the administrative or management parts of social work therefore ending up with higher salaries. Clients however, would hugely benefit from more males in the profession. I would think the effort would have to start in schools before college and in colleges to recruit guys. Not sure what type of slogan would have to be used to recruit though………strong men needed to work with the scarier parts of society?

    4. Caroline – it makes me wonder if much of a profit is possible in this climate. I have had – as I’m sure you can imagine – difficulties a few times when I’ve been asked specifically for male carers for male service users. To be honest, I couldn’t resist the headline but I think the issues are pertinent for women as well as men.

      Reas – It’s very true that a lot of men end up in management or (over here anyway) we have a higher proportion of men working in mental health (compared to community care or children and families work). I was thinking a lot more about the hands-on care work but I am absolutely sure that there is also a massive issue of perception. Higher pay wouldn’t hurt though!

      Lcswmom – I loved the picture too. I did a search on Flickr for ‘men’. I won’t tell you how distracted I became but it was one of my more pleasant searches! I agree that a more grass roots challenge to perception is needed after all, there are massive opportunities in this field and there is so much that can be done. I like the idea of a slogan – I might even compile some myself!

    5. At the risk of creating a gendered mess, I’d like to add that I believe men are needed because many clients respond differently to male providers than female ones, and sometimes they respond much better. We have a football-loving, beer-drinking guy on our team. Men seem to bond with him, women often get a kick out of him. It’s not fair, but sometimes he gets farther with clients because they take him more seriously than a female worker. Regardless, I’m glad he’s around. Too bad he’s already taking night classes in business.

    6. Thanks, bluejean. I think part of the idea is about creating at least a choice for people in some senses. Some people respond better to men, others to women. Just as some people respond better to people from the same culture and others (and I’ve seen this personally) have specifically asked for people from a different culture to their own because they don’t want to be judged.
      In any case, being able to offer some kind of gender balance in a service is definitely A Good Thing – and just last week I was on a course with an ex-colleague, the only man in the team I used to work in. An exceptional social worker. He’s doing an IT course and wants to go into network management!

    7. I established a private Domiciliary Care company four years ago. As a male is has always bothered me that there have been few (and sometimes no) other males in the organisation. The truth is that even when we have had a handful of male care workers we have always found it incredibly difficult for our clients to accept receiving care from them. My experience is that it is ultimately client demand that restricts the utilisation of male care workers in Domiciliary Care.

    8. It’s a difficult balance, for sure, Steve, but my experience comes from having horrendous difficulties in finding male care workers when they are specifically requested! Perhaps the changes in the FACS criteria has led to less ‘domestic’ care packages (shopping, cleaning) and more personal care has led to some of these difficulties too.

    9. I’m a social worker and a carer. Having just had to move my mum from one awful care home ( who chucked her out) to another, this subject is close to my heart. I write from what I’ve seen.
      Social care reflects the gender division of labour within capitalism. The “social/domestic” is carried over into the “social/economic”. The ” home work” done by women has become socialised but In capitalism domestic labour -care work is either “non-productive” , in the sense that it doesn’t directly produce profit, or the level of profit is marginal. And capitalism is really only interested in profit. So the pay is crap.And women – flexible women- do the work.
      It’s also seen as unskilled ( though we all know good carers are very highly skilled) and therefore suitable for people from the reserve army of labour ( part-time, women, migrant workers)…Interestingly childcare used to be seen like this. Now the government has realised that it needs high quality childcare both to free up existing workers and to prepare a productive future labour force, it’s begun to invest more in training and and pay…
      Call me cynical, but I think we’ll get male workers when pay rates, training, status start to reflect the real skills and dedication needed. But crucially, when people come before profits.

    10. Thanks for that susielil. I have to say I agree wholeheartedly. I hope there is some more general sociological shift in the idea that care work is unskilled work because it is very far from that and goes some of the way towards achieving the same status as childcare. Honestly, I have little interest is the job is done by a man or a woman as long as a quality is maintained but I think that the sidelining of care work is partly because it is seen as ‘women’s’ work.

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