This is an interview conducted between two of Equal Care's London Circle members, Luke Tanner and Florence Nazziwa. Find out more about Luke and Florence at equalcare.coop.
So Florence, I want to talk to about your experience of care work, your professional development and Cooperative Care. How long have you worked in Care?
I have worked for 15 years in care and 10 years in my current service.
How much opportunity has there been for you to develop in your work?
It's not until I decided to go back to school, that I felt like I'm moving somewhere. But even then, my decision to go back to school wasn't that appealing to the management. It's sort of like it's more of a threat. It's more of a threat that when I take more training, there are two options. I will either overshadow them. Or I would walk away for for further green pastures, which it is.
At some point we had a staff meeting and I was noting down things, which is not very common in care. You're just in a staff meeting to be told what to do. You know, what is the way forward? How unpleasant the work is going? What's the complaint from parents or from what else? Basically, we invest in the meeting to listen to what, what they have prepared us to do. I was taking notes, and they said, “Oh, is there anybody who has something to say?” So I told the manager, “but he talked about such and such and such and such as an issue blah, blah, blah and so …. what about this?”
And she openly said,
“Florence, I know, you're studying a degree in psychology and sociology, but it doesn't work in this place.”
I thought, Okay, I have got you. This is not the answer to this question. The answer to this question is, what do we do? Where is the way forward if you are telling us this? There is also this!
So I noted that and I said, Okay, I think in care you don't have to show any involvement, you just do as you're told, and that has really sabotaged a lot of people. A lot of people. Oh, it's not the best experience anyway.
So what has it been like being part of a coop, so far?
I remember, when I first came to Equal Care Co-op, I could not speak, I couldn't speak because I was so structured. You know, for 15 years, I have been, you know, structured, the boss is there, the manager is there, the director is there, and then shift leaders, there are all these hierarchies. This manager, this manager, this manager, this manager, and you dare not even, you don't even know what to say, who to tell.
And the recruitment of staff as carers, it's so brutal, you know. The system of recruitment is too strict for the carers. So by the time they get there, they're so intimidated, you're working around your DBS, you are threatened that anything can happen on your DBS so you're so limited to how much you can do later on say, you know, because you are now holding onto your DBS otherwise after that you have no job. So, when I first came to the co-op, I felt that was how it is going to be. And I think it really took me very, maybe almost six months to even express my feelings. And I remember the first time I talked, I cried. I can remember very well, I cried. Because there was so much in me that has never been said that has never been talked about for fear of being judged. The fear of being judged of, "What are you talking about?" So that crying really opened me up, opened me up to to be able to express, to be able to freely talk, to be able to contribute to all these that we are building.
I wouldn't have had the confidence to speak and even more recently to try to find my own independent care work, if it wasn't for the coop, because I grasp what the coop is, you know. And that's exactly the same for the people who we're supporting. When I speak about cooperative care to people in care, they will say "I cannot believe what you're telling me, that it is true. What are you talking about?" So, do you see how people have been structured to take in the system, this is the system and they are so comfortable that the system has let them down and that it can never change. And that is what is into people's mind. Even family members are thinking; as bad a care as my Aunt is receiving, so long as it is there. So long as it is there. They would rather stay with the devil you know ... honestly! So this system has crippled people to thinking that you know what, let's take what you have.
People are suffering. People are suffering. And it's about time we make a change. This may begin with one, and that one will lead us to 2,3,4. Until people get to know that, you know what Cooperative is about, you know, working together.
I spoke to someone I want to support about the care coop, I said we can work together, me and you can work together for what you want. She said, Although I trust you, I can't believe that, that kind of service is out there. So there's so much that has gone into people's heads that it is difficult to untangle, to untangle them to make sure that you tell them that, “you know what, things can be different!”
And problems I have experienced, you know, I've experienced a lot of problems in, in my care work, especially, as a home worker. I have been a good, home worker, but home working has a dark side of it. For instance, I used to, I work for the same company, but in a place called Nuffield, it's towards East Grinstead. And that house is a very, very isolated house, because one of the service users there is very, very, very loud. It doesn't matter whether day or night he is very loud, "wah, wah, wah, wah, wah," he can do that for four hours or five hours day or night, you can hear him from a distance. And in the night, you can even hear him. So I worked with that service user for seven years. And you can imagine how much effect that can have. And it's isolated, there is big fields this way. Big fields, that way. Literally, it's in the middle of the countryside, farms everywhere. And it was built, it was bought purposely for that for that service user. I worked with him for seven years. And I'm thinking now, How did I do that? How did I do that?
There was three more residents, you know, but you were you were just one carer in the night. And this girl, she also had complications, but she died on me in the night. And I've got this one screaming, and I got to do CPR on the other one who is dying? At the same time getting an ambulance. At the same time getting an ambulance! You know!
How much were you getting paid for that job, Florence?
I think I was getting paid seven pound fifty for that job. I think it was minimum wage, isn't it? I'm thinking about it now. And I'm thinking; this is not right! It is not right for carers. Because we, we dedicate a lot, dedicate our life, everything to save lives, to save. But at the end of the day, we don't take anything and don't take anything out of it. You know, that's why carers are tired!
In one of our meetings, I think it was when we were testing out an asset based community development tool within the group. It got us talking about inequality in our own group and in general. I remember you saying that, so often carers are working from inequality. You said that they put their inequality into their care. Can you tell me what you meant by that?
All right. For somebody to become a carer, it's a natural thing for you to go and care for somebody. Because for me, I come from a background, African background, we care for everybody, we come from big families. So the caring becomes natural. For me, the caring is just passing on my, my love, my care, my Ubuntu, I just extend it to, to the to the service users, it comes natural; without much training. It is a natural thing. However, when it goes beyond your capacity, you know, it goes beyond your capacity. First and foremost, you look at how much you put in, because it involves, sometimes we lose our backs. Sometimes the feet are aching, sometimes there's abuse, sometimes there's discrimination, the residents themselves they just put it on you, no matter how much you want to care. "Don't touch me! I don't like your black hands. I don't want this." But it sometimes surpasses you and you separate with your Ubuntu and you say you know what, if this is what I have to do, and this is the job I have for life I might as well just do the job. Do you know what I mean?
For instance, the breaks are monitored, 15 minutes of break. 15 minutes of break!! That means you are just walking off the floor by the time you go to the locker room, let alone make a cup of tea and sit down 15 minutes is done. How that is?! You really feel bad, you know going back. It becomes a routine to you, that is, that is separating you from Ubuntu; the care that you, you naturally have, and you say you know what I might as well just do the job. And this is what is really happening. To many carers.
For instance, in the evening, sometimes when I go to help my friend with agency work, I have from five o'clock, I have nine people to put to bed. Nine. And nine people are not in one place. They're not in one home. You're driving 15 minutes, 20 minutes away distances, you know, you are like that, you know, and they're all timed up in a way that Mrs. Josephine might be going to bed at half past eight.
And she is living near to John, but John doesn't go to bed at that time. But, Jackie Jones, Jackie Jones does go to bed at that time. But she is far from you, you know.
You're driving like that. As much as you have Ubuntu, How can you do that? So there's no break, there's no time for you to, to commute. So you are just getting to somebody's house like that. No break, no nothing. I just have a flask of my tea. I just made sure it is warm. You know, because the weather is very cold. We are in and out, and in and out. And I just keep sipping sipping that tea, just to keep me up, to keep me, to keep me warm. Because you're packing out, packing in. And of course you've got to keep that going with a little sugar. And imagine, I'm doing it with a car, most carers are doing all this without a car! So they have to wait for a bus. That means they're 30 minutes late, this way. 30 minutes late that way, you know! By the time you get to the home of the service users. They say "so where have you been?" How much can you explain? You know, automatically your Ubuntu is not there. So you are just like, you're just a robot. You are just a machine doing the work. You don't have a passion for the job. And you can imagine, a machine working with a human, nobody is receiving anything! Nobody is benefiting! So something has got to change. You know.
But it has been brought back to the carers; the carers are the one who are doing a bad job. And yet, it is the setup that makes them behave like that. Because it is not only home care, even the care in nursing homes or special homes is bad. But it is all put down to the carers, which is not the case. One of the carers has got 27 calls a day, Luke! 27 calls! From seven o'clock to 9.30, 27 calls! I worked with her from five o'clock. But she's been working from seven. The way she was working. I felt like screaming. I felt like crying. I said, “Please don't drag this woman”. She said, "you know, what time I have been working since”. “I'm going to the office, I shouldn't be working with you. If we work like this, we're going to be here until 11 o'clock in the night. And mind you, I'm coming back in the morning.”
So, can you imagine that kind of a Carer lost her Ubuntu. And you can imagine all the 27 people. It was so bad that one of the callers, we were supposed to lift her up on the bed, do her personal care very, very well, put her in the bed for her night, although she says she is comfortable sleeping in her chair. So the carer, she says no, no, lets just cover her up. I said, “No. How about if she's soiled”
She said, “she will still be soiled in the morning.”
I said, “I don't believe, I don't belong here.”
So me talking about cooperative care. You know, you sit down and agree together on what has to be done, which is not the case with the how care is, is commissioned to date. In cooperative care, both the caregiver and the care receiver sit down and agree how one wants to be cared for and whether you can fit within that role. You don't do it through set policies. And if this is going to change the system, then it's the best way to go. Whereby I don't mind having five people a day, each one having an hour or two according to their needs. And I do my work satisfactorily. And the care receivers also enjoy the benefit of what they're paying for. So if that one carer, that I saw, is she the only one person who's caring 27 people a day? Dragging these people! How many carers are doing that? How much of that is out there. People have said, they don't like to work with Florence because I have no problem being there for 45 minutes. 45 minutes is enough for us to do this. You know? It is very painful.
And some of these carers, I'm sorry to say that some of them come from night shifts, to come and do this. Because of the little pay they have to make ends meet. So they have to do two jobs. So you can imagine, especially this woman I worked with, she has come from a night shift. She hasn't slept. So you can imagine the temper she has, you know, whatever energy I don't know what it is, I don't know what kind of energy is that? Coming from a night shift. She starts at seven o'clock and starts dragging these people, left, right and center, honestly! And it is all about how care is commissioned. If you give these people 30 minutes, how much can somebody do in 30 minutes? It's just like walk in and out.
People are suffering and I don't know whether social services is aware of it. The people we provide care to are suffering. So if there is an opportunity for us to do cooperative care, I think it will help. It may be slow to begin with. As time goes on, as I think it's the way, that is good, that is going to change the mess in social care. We cannot just keep on talking about how bad care is going on. We have to do something, we have to do something. If it is the cooperative way of doing something then I am happy to be part of the team that is going to influence the bad care going on in the community. I hope together we can do something about this.
How was it just to speak about these things to me now Florence?
Ah, Equal Care, the London Coop. It's like I say, it gave me a voice to speak about these things. And I'm just so proud that I have this audience that can listen. And later on in the years to come, probably my voice will will, will have impacted the social change that is required, I am proud and I'm very happy that this voice or my talking will, at some point help make a change to to the system. So I'm very happy to talk about these things. Because for me, it comes from my Ubuntu, my inner self. I'm a very, very, very caring person. So I just feel so bad to see that this is happening. And I have always wanted this, to speak out about these things. Which is a voice I could not have in my organisation. Because I was already, you know, I was already told that I am a threat. So if this platform Cooperate Islington can help, can help me voice out what is happening, and that will help me be part of the change, then I'm happy, I'm happy.
We have not talked much about your professional life in Uganda. Building a school from nothing. Supporting so many children after they lost their parents in the AIDS epidemic and now rebuilding it again today after 2 years of dilapidation during the pandemic. You have lived a life of both service and leadership. Have you been able to draw on this in your work in the UK?
So caring is in me, caring is in me. I don't want to see anyone in suffering. And it is that skill, it is in me that I want to pour, I want to pour into the cooperative here. At least 10 or 20 people will be beneficiaries of what I have to give. And if I get a team, and they draw their strength, the strength that I have, the urge I have to serve? I'm sure that is what will impact the people we intend to support, if that makes sense. Yeah, that Ubuntu, that Ubuntu. If, if all the people we recruit, we draw on their Ubuntu, Yes you know, from leadership, to the carers and the team, if we all have Ubuntu, we hold our Ubuntu, and then we take that Ubuntu into the community into our cooperative care. I'm sure we will be able to change what is important.
I think that we should call the recruitment that we develop, “Ubuntu Recruitment.” That's our recruitment process.
Yes. Right. Yes. Ubuntu Recruitment.
Thank you so much for speaking from your heart, from your experience.