Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Interview with Elizabeth Beh, by freelance journalist Jennifer Venis – see more of her work at www.jennifervenis.co.uk.
Why Do You.Care? is the brainchild of Elizabeth Beh, a young Malaysian woman who moved to London in June 2012. For the past 10 years, she has been working in the finance industry, but has become disillusioned after seeing businesses making decisions driven solely by profit, at the expense of people. Now, she is hoping to build a new social business that places people before profits, and this platform is the first step.
Why do you.care? aims to provide ‘a voice for all carers to share their stories and perspectives’, showcasing interviews with individual carers and other members of the caring industry at all levels. The site also offers a forum, which Liz hopes will become a community where carers can exchange advice and provide support to each other.
The care crisis
Liz believes that the care industry needs elevating to tackle problems in the industry and broader society.
‘Globally, the elderly population is increasing as people live longer, but there aren’t enough carers, and unfortunately, sometimes the quality of care provided at the moment can be poor. So, I see a real need for us to encourage more people to view being a carer as a career option – by giving carers the reward and recognition they deserve for their hard work.’
She thinks that the caring profession can be made more attractive as a career option, to current and future carers, by increasing pay levels for carers, showing them they are valued, and ensuring they have good working conditions.
Challenges facing the care industry
Liz doesn’t work in care herself, but since 2019 she has sought the insights of those who do. She also volunteered as a care assistant in a care home in the first few months of 2020 to get a sense of the industry she hopes to change.
‘In my first morning volunteering as a care assistant, I helped to toilet and wash the elderly, and was unprepared for the sensory experience and level of intimacy required. It was mentally jarring, and I very much felt thrown into the deep end.’
She stresses the importance of maintaining the dignity of those receiving care in such vulnerable situations. ‘It is absolutely essential to see each human being and communicate what you are doing with them, instead of reducing them to “things” by toileting and cleaning them by force and not giving them a say in what is being done to them.’
She adds, ‘in the process of volunteering there part-time and experiencing a 12-hour work shift, I swiftly realised that being a carer is a very physically, emotionally and mentally demanding job. And I see why people with good intentions and a good heart would enter into the care industry, but very quickly get burnt out or disillusioned and leave. Not because they really want to leave, but because it’s too difficult to stay in the industry.’
Liz says that in such an environment, where they may be overworked and exhausted, it could be easy for carers to become numb and jaded in order to protect themselves.
In fact, many of the people she spoke to in 2019 had left the care industry. ‘They said that it’s very rewarding, and what they find most rewarding is the people that they care for, getting a smile from them, feeling that the job is worthwhile because it’s making a difference to that person. But there are downsides, and it starts from the very top: I think that care home providers and agencies get tripped up by bureaucracy and red tape that’s well-intentioned but has become more of a box-ticking exercise rather than carrying out the spirit of the law, which is to safeguard people.’
‘That,’ she believes, ‘has resulted in the care providers not being able to take care of the carers. And the carers then find it very difficult to provide good care to the end-users, because they don't have enough time to do their job properly due to the imbalance between end-users requiring care and low number of carers available. And despite the long hours and hard work put in, they are struggling financially, and do not have adequate support at work. Especially with regards to mental health given that they are dealing with high-risk life and death situations.’
Her own work has given her a sense of some of the challenges facing the industry. As an HR consultant, she provides compensation benchmarks to the financial industry to ensure employees are fairly remunerated.
‘Right now, many carers are on zero-hour contracts or being paid below the living wage. Some of them do not receive sick pay. Most of the time, the people doing this job are women and migrants, and they’re often being taken advantage of and not being treated fairly.’
Her hopes for the care industry
In 2020, COVID-19 placed the NHS and care work in the limelight, and through initiatives such as Clap for Carers the general public may be more aware of how valuable frontline workers are. ‘I'm hoping that we will continue to value and recognise the important work that care workers do, so I'm launching this platform now.’
She hopes that society’s view of care work will change, and, with it, the practices that are harming the industry.
‘I would really like to see the caring profession elevated, and for society to value carers as they do lawyers, doctors, teachers. Also, to see more people attracted to join the care industry, and for universities to provide care degrees. I hope that the next generation will see being a care worker as a very viable career option for them to undertake.’
She hopes that zero-hour contracts will become a thing of the past, and that all carers will receive at least the living wage. ‘Also, for them to have more of a say and autonomy in the way they work, for them to receive sick pay and benefits, which is the very minimum of what most employers provide employees in other sectors.’
‘I hope that all care providers will think about more than just profits, but also the human aspect of the job,’ and that extends to not just those in charge of the care homes, but those with even more authority.
‘If I had a magic wand, I’d love to speak to someone in government, at the very top, like the Minister for Health, and put together a group of representatives – like a working group – made up of carers, care providers, care agencies, Age UK, to present ideas on how we can improve the care industry,' Liz says.
However far this goes, if it makes a positive impact on one person, it will be worthwhile: ‘I believe in doing small things with great love. I don't think it's important to achieve big things, if we all do one small thing and make a positive impact with just one person, that is enough.’
That ethos is clear when meeting Liz, an immediately very friendly and kind person. When you speak to her, you can tell she’s thinking about how she might be able to support you in your goals or through your challenges, to at the very least show you empathy. Like many, a lot of that empathy comes from the challenges Liz has faced herself, and this project is a testament to her ability to take a problem, approach it with empathy, and try to learn from it.
‘Because of the things that I've experienced in my past,’ she says, ‘I can look back and know that I’m a survivor, because I’ve survived worse things, and when I face challenges and difficult situations, it has given me the ability to dig deep and know that this moment too will pass. Then, when I’m out at the other end and have survived again, I try to learn and see whatever lessons I can take from it. COVID-19 has made me realise that life is too short to not go for my dreams. My dream is to help people, and make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person. My hope is that Why Do You.Care? will help achieve this.’
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