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Care workers feel forced to work through illness – according to new research

Date 21.11.2018

A new report, co-authored by a University of Northampton academic, suggests a rise in ‘presenteeism’ in Scotland’s social care sector, as care workers admit to being afraid to take time off for sickness in case they lose money.

Reports of emerging presenteeism among care workers result from a reluctance and fear to be off sick in the face of increasing employer pressure.

The new report, funded by UNISON, assesses the impact personalisation and austerity has had on the Scottish social care sector, with a focus on the strain that budget cuts and “person-centred” or “user-focused” care has had on care workers.

One anonymous care worker admits in the report: “I was off for a while and was really ill. I landed in hospital and was made to feel really very guilty”

Another care worker admitted: “Sick pay is an issue for me. I know if I am going to stay off, it kind of discourages me if I am sick, I would rather go to work, and it shouldn’t be that way. I know I am going to make the service user sick, but it’s a worry me staying off and not getting paid because I notice the effect it has on my wage as well.”

The research was led by Professor Ian Cunningham of University of Strathclyde; and co-authored by Professor Phil James of Middlesex University and Dr. Chandrima Roy, currently a Lecturer in Human Resource Mgmt & OB at the University of Northampton.

Dr Chandrima Roy said: “A series of in-depth interviews were conducted to elicit data for this study and involved two inter-related phases with phase one involving a series of interviews with UNISON officials responsible for organising the voluntary sector and phase two involving intensive semi-structured interviews with key informants in four case study organisations which recognised UNISON for the purposes of collective bargaining and were selected across a range of different types of service providers.

“The richness of the data has helped gain insights into the direct and the indirect implications of the insecure funding regime faced by the social care sector, with a particular focus on those relating to employment and service quality.”

Prof Cunningham added: “The research highlights significant insecurity at work from personalisation and austerity including in working time. Of concern also are the health implications as workers attend work while ill, either from a sense of responsibility to the individuals they work with, or due to inadequate sickness entitlement. In the long-term such presenteeism can only be detrimental to the long-term health of workers and those vulnerable people they work for, and so threatens the quality of social care services.”

You can download the full report here.