This Edinburgh resident has been a core activist in a campaign by the People’s Health Movement (PHM) to improve the quality of care provision.
After completing my Masters, I wanted to specialise in PR and, as there were no opportunities to study in my country, I moved to Edinburgh in 2007. It was challenging because English wasn’t my first language. Towards the end of my studies I lost my part time job, through my own fault, and started working full-time in the care sector in order to complete my degree. However working full time in the care sector had an impact on my studies. In the end I finished with postgraduate diploma instead of Master Degree. I realized that it was almost impossible to combine this kind of work with studies, but I also realized that many people in the care sector are suffering because of the workload, antisocial hours and low pay. Coincidentally, the People’s Health Assembly was held at my university – Queen Margaret’s – and I got an invitation to attend. I participated in discussions and raised issues about people in care suffering silently and care workers deserving a standard of life, that is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This was the first step and then I got to know Anuj – our core group co-ordinator at People’s Health Movement – as well as academics and others that were steering the discussions. I was the one, however, bringing real stories and I think that was quite important.
Throughout my work in care I have met a lot of people, not just those I care for but colleagues as well, and we talk a lot about the things that matter to us and the difficulties we experience. I just thought, these things need to be said loudly and the People’s Health Assembly was a very good opportunity to do it. From the Assembly in 2014, our core PHM group was formed. We meet at least once a month (person or via skype), and also we are in communication weekly, by email, about events we should be going to and what we are preparing for. I have come to realise how important this dialogue, and encouraging people to take part in it, is. Talking to politicians, academics and others from the health sector is crucial but what is also needed is talking with my colleagues about what they think needs to be changed, how they feel about their work and how this work is perceived.
The PHM managed to create a people’s health manifesto, which is now used to lobby political parties, and we have indirectly contributed to some small changes to the sector. Linking with other NGO and supporting cause for living wage brought first fruit. In October, for example, we are going to get paid the Living Wage of £8.25 an hour.
These improvements also bring new challenges as companies are fighting back. For example, at my work, after Living Wage was introduced we all received a letter saying our sickness hours have been cut. It’s a constant battle; you achieve something small and they will take it from the other side. Their argument will always be money; our argument will always be quality. The health sector is not about profit and you can’t look at it like it will be profitable, because it’s about people. Cathy MacCormack is an inspirational lady who had a presentation at the People’s Health Assembly and she says we are like David against Goliath; there are people very high up who you cannot reach and are sometimes not really interested. It’s a battle but it’s an important battle to be a part of.
When I started with the company, we got uniforms and our manager went to people’s houses to check on things and give us weekly feedback. Slowly all these things started disappearing, it was like a degradation of the whole job with no one really caring what is done or how it works. I was lucky to have a full-time contract but others were getting 16 hour+, which means at the end of the month you get £500, £600 for working 50 hours per weeks. It was cheating people. Many people got sick and I saw some young people who have mental health issues because they can’t cope with the level of stress. The minimum wage didn’t cover their expenses, such as nutritious food, which you need to work 7am to 10pm, constantly serving someone and giving medication. When people realise they can’t do their job properly they feel like they have to leave, otherwise they might make mistakes, which they have to take full responsibility for. People working for banks are seen as important, they’re dealing with money, it has a high status. But those who are taking care of other people – looking after the most vulnerable in society – they don’t have the same recognition.
The People’s Health Movement is a very important resource, a global network of grassroots health activists, NGO and academics around the world, because it’s a way of uniting people. We are all fighting for the same thing – health for all – in our own countries. When I was in Belgium, attending special education program called IPHU – through PHM, there were people from many countries there, all saying that the health sector is changing into a big profit company. TTIP is a huge threat to PHM’s aims because it allows the state to sell everything. The state should be the owner of health care and it should be for everyone so that no one is afraid that if they get sick or something goes wrong they won’t be cared for. At PHM global we are all experiencing the same thing in different countries and it unites us.
Three women I used to care for have been inspirational to me – Christina, Elizabeth and Mary. Having lived through the Second World War they were in their late eighties and nighties and still very strong women with good values. Seeing how hard our job was, they were very supportive to their carers, for example Christina was always offering cups of hot drink and running to hang up your coat if it was wet. They had hard lives all of their lives and the end it wasn’t smooth for them either so, to me, they were women overcoming barriers, staying strong in spite of difficulties; they were not broken. Christina especially, when she was becoming weak the care wasn’t a high standard and deserved something better. Although I make small contributions, I think about these women and feel that future generations have to say things loudly if they’re not as they should be.
I’m still learning a lot but I realise how important this dialogue is – it’s challenging but it is worth it. I know there are always people who look like they are three times smarter than you but you have to say what you have to say, that’s the most important thing. A future task for PHM is lobbing for equality in health care, transparency, state ownership of healthcare, which will require us to be united and speak up against the way things are now.