The inequality of social care: how pursuing profits puts us all at risk

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Prof Bev Skeggs

Academic Director, AFSEE

I was upset and angry about my mother’s death.

But I became absolutely furious when I found out how directly elderly deaths are connected to the increased financialisation of everyday life and the almost complete absence of care within the structures of the caring system in the UK.

Outsourcing care

The government has outsourced residential adult care and most provision is privatised. Many care homes are owned by hedge funds that operate on high risk high return principles, expect a 12% annual profit, avoid tax payments, and either flip the companies once the profit has been stripped or load the company with debt in order to leverage more debt for other activities.

And its not just care homes that have been turned into financial derivatives, Dan Neyland’s research details how children at risk have also been turned into an investment proposition.

I began to ask how can we let this happen?

How can our most vulnerable social groups be subject to such brutal profit making? What does it say about our humanity if defenseless and dying people are monetised? How low can we go?

My mum had many disabilities, her caring needs were extensive so she was more costly to care home providers, and hence less profit could be extracted from her. This generated enormous difficulty to find any care home who would take her. A ‘regular’ elderly care home resident was much more profitable.


Those who do care, are not cared for

Even though nurses are paid a shockingly low wage for the incredibly hard work they do, care workers are paid even less, therefore it’s much easier to make profit from cheaper care workers who don’t provide nursing care. Most are on zero hours contracts and require minimum training. The working conditions to which most are subject are shockingly poor.

Yet research I did previously with care workers showed how most find that the act of caring provides a key source of value in their lives. Lydia Hayes’ research revealed similar subject formation; to care for others matters to their own sense of who they are. But their personal investment in being caring means they are more open to exploitation as they do not want to neglect and abuse people; they actually want to care - in stark comparison to the companies who just want to make money.

The conditions in which they work means that their belief in the value of what they do makes their work very difficult, they often feel really compromised, as they have so many people to care for, so much to do in such little time. It’s difficult to sustain a positive caring attitude in the conditions in which they work.

This is even more compromised for the mobile care workers, employed by care agencies whose main interest is also profit. With 15 minutes per visit, constantly tracked through their mobile phones, they race through the day, increasing their guilt as they go. This is why the turnover is so high and why there are still 90,000 vacancies for care work advertised every day. They want to care but the conditions make it impossible for them to do so.


Change hasn’t happened

Little has changed since I first wrote about my mum’s death last year. More worrying is how the interests of the privatised, financialised care companies have become the dominant narrative that shapes the “crisis of care”. The companies claim they are not paid enough to provide adequate provision, yet if they were not using care homes as a virtual ATM - extracting high profits (minimum 12%) - quality care could easily be provided by workers who want to and actually care.

As capital buys, debt leverages, flips and damages care provision, killing the elderly as they pursue more capital; claiming state support when close to collapse after their high strategy risks have not paid off. And when the ineffectual state pumps more and more money into funding these excessive profits and risks, which are based on not caring for people; our tax is transferred almost directly into hedge funds.

For humans the crisis is a lack of provision, a lack of care. For these companies their crisis is the potential drop in their profits.

When will people realise that we are the ones who will suffer? I would rather die than experience what my mum experienced. Is this an inadvertent result? If we kill ourselves through dread, the demand will likely become reduced and the steady flow of profit into privatised companies can be maintained. Why have government ministers done so little, most of whom are elderly and about to hit the humiliation of current caring provision? Their personal wealth will make little difference. Don’t they understand how much financialisation has encroached into our everyday lives? It’s neglect by the inept.

Do they care?


Professor Skeggs spoke on the subject of the Labour of Care on 1 May 2018 at LSE. Watch the video recording of this event .

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.