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  • Writer's pictureKrystle Wong

Three Insights from 'Love's Labours' We Couldn't Agree With More

Take from the cup without replenishing it, and you will be left with an empty one. Can we expect care workers to keep giving from an empty cup?

Last month, Tresacare was featured as a case study in a new report on social care published by think-tank Theos. Reading the Love's Labours report, there were many 'aha' moments and lots of vigorous nodding for us at Tresacare.

Here are just three of the many insights we couldn't agree with more:

1. Care Work as Invisible Emotional Labour

It is impossible to care for people without caring about them. In the report, author Hannah Rich highlights the emotional toll that care work takes. Carers often struggle with grief or sadness when clients pass away. In some care homes, care workers are encouraged to view colleagues and clients as family, so as to activate compassion and raise the quality of care. Care workers grow emotionally attached to clients whom they have come to see as "grandpa" or "grandma", and are devastated when clients die.

Carers are also asked to mediate their frustrations and emotions when faced with verbal abuse or aggression from patients who present with challenging behaviours, such as those with dementia or behavorial issues.

Indeed, one of the most requested training Tresacare receives from care providers is how to manage grief and bereavement. Left unacknowledged and unsupported, this emotional labour can lead to isolation and poor mental health, heavy personal costs of an otherwise rewarding profession.

The patience and compassion they are asked to demonstrate as they care for challenging patients call for enormous amounts of inner strength and calm. Take from the cup everyday without replenishing it, and you are eventually left with an empty one. Can we truly expect care workers to keep giving from an empty cup?

“For many care workers, the weight of grief involved in their work goes hand in hand with the love and commitment they show towards those they care for.”

2. Care Work is Economically Undervalued

Despite its significant social impact, care work remains undervalued in economic terms. Care worker pay rates are among the lowest in the UK economy, with median pay in the bottom 20% across all sectors. Hannah suggests in the report that seeing care work as a form of love can lead to a broader appreciation for the field.

At its origin, caregiving has always been understood as an act of love. Yet Hannah cautions that there is a shadow side to seeing care as a form of love: acts of love have traditionally been seen as a form of unpaid, unrequited service. Just think of parenting, nursing, and charity.

At Tresacare, we find that care work naturally attracts compassionate people. The majority of care workers who choose this profession do so because they have a calling for it. (See our interview with Maria C.)

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the very love-is-free phenomenon Hannah describes, it has been difficult for society to place an adequate economic value on care work. Without the right levels of compensation or wellbeing support, the combination of low wages and high levels of stress can make care an unsustainable line of work.

In our view, care workers aren't the only ones footing the bill of being undervalued. The cost of undervaluing care work is extremely high for society and healthcare, as we end up neither getting the quantity nor quality of care workers we need – a situation experts have been calling the "care crisis" for years.

“Love teaches love, care teaches care, in ways a skills curriculum never could.”

3. Care Work is Not Low-Skilled Work

It is a myth that care work is low-skilled work. Hannah points out in her report that the reverse is true if we consider the emotional intelligence and relational skills care workers are expected to possess on the job.

Strikingly, it is suggested that empathy and intuition should be considered valuable skills, just like how many employers seek and value communication and organisational skills. After all, it is precisely these qualities that elevate the quality of care. Love, she argues, is what can transform care. And it is difficult to teach love.

Hannah suggests that it is time to rethink how we value care work. Increasing how much they're paid is just the beginning of the conversation, but it shouldn't be the end of the conversation.

Besides the intrinsic skillset (love, compassion, empathy, intuition) that care workers bring, we'd like to share that care workers undergo months of training and even experienced care workers are expected to refresh their skills to keep up with policy changes.

Based on client needs, care workers even receive specialised training for disabilities with special needs, such as autism, dementia, Down Syndrome, etc. There are many forms of certification available to care workers that showcase what they are capable of. If unskilled or low-skilled labour means "no experience or training necessary", "no barriers to entry", "anyone could do it"... then care work is anything but.

“The value of what a nurse does cannot be articulated or valued in purely economistic terms… and no one wants to be cared for by nurses who view their job only in these terms.”


Have you had a chance to read the report? Let us know what you think!

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