In London, for many people finding an honest, reliable and competent cleaner is not easy. If you are disabled, it seems to be even more difficult.
When I first needed help with personal care and doing housework, my care was provided through the local authority where I live, an outer London borough. These services were contracted out to care agencies. For the first year when I was living in a different part of the borough both my care and housework were provided by the same agency, and although I was allocated very few hours both the women sent to me were very good. They were kind and compassionate and the lovely woman who did my personal care was actually a qualified nurse in her own country. She was better than many qualified nurses I have encountered in the NHS.
However, when I moved to the area I now live in, although I was living in the same borough, I had services provided by a different agency. In the first year I had them I must have been sent over 20 different carers! I never knew what time they would arrive or who I would be seeing. Very unsettling, even worse, many of them did not seem to either understand or speak English, much less know either how to clean or deliver personal care.
Having managed Nursing Homes and care staff for over 20 years, I am used working with staff from many different ethnic backgrounds, as well as carrying out employment interviews and appraisals. Understanding staff for whom English Is not their first language is second nature to me. Few of the carers I encountered would have been employed by me, or remained in my employment if previously recruited!
It seemed as though I was phoning the agency office to complain on a weekly basis. Even worse was the issue of things going missing from my flat. I had money, jewelry, food, medication and other small items stolen. I also had crockery and glasses chipped or broken. It was almost impossible to get the agency to taken action, such as compensating me or involving the police. On two separate occasions when things had gone missing, I discovered that the person doing my care was not the person allocated by the agency. The carer concerned had ‘swapped’ with a friend!
Complaints to the council, were often a waste of time and breath! Being told, “Oh yes, we have problems with the contract, we will be reviewing it soon”. So I was delighted when I was told I would be eligible for Direct Payments. This meant that I could employ carers of my own choosing and directly manage their employment. Apart from the length of time it took to organise, I seem to remember it was over 6 months and involved two different support organisations it has meant I’ve had much better and more reliable care.
But there have been drawbacks, the first being that the amount of money per hour allocated to pay carers by the council has not increased in the last three years. This means that in order to retain the carers I have to either subsidise their pay myself or employ then for shorter hours. I do a bit of both. To give an idea of the difference, the council calculates that I should pay just over £7 per hour, whereas most carers and cleaners in London charge at least £10 per hour. Quite a difference!
The brilliant woman who does my personal care has been with me for ages and is really good, but she doesn’t usually do housework, so I employ a separate cleaner. Again the first person I employed was good, but she decided to return to her own country on holiday and hasn’t come back to England. For a time my kind neighbour helped out, but then she needed surgery so I had to start from scratch to find someone. I spoke to all the people I knew, but those who had a cleaner said she did not have any spare hours, would have to travel too far, or were changing £12 per hour, sadly well beyond my budget.
I was starting to think that I would have to rely on the Quentin Crisp theory of dusting.
It seemed as though finding a cleaner was like looking for gold dust!
After my experience with agency staff who were not personally known to me, I was reluctant to use one the many Eastern European women who put flyers through my door. First there was the problem of checking documentation. I’m not up to date enough to make sure I’m not being shown dodgy paperwork. I also didn’t want to find myself, as one person I know was, being interviewed by immigration officers about the person she had unwittingly employed!
I was beginning to think I’d never find a new cleaner and was having to ask my carer to do extra hours she didn’t always have time to do. Then my neighbour, who also is also a cleaner, managed to speak to one of her friends who also does cleaning. One her clients had just moved out of London so she had some spare hours. My neighbour knew this woman very well and assured me she was good at her job, reliable and honest. I couldn’t wait to interview her!
Luckily we were soon able to arrange a time, and two days later she began to work for me. I’m so pleased with her, she is hard-working and certainly excellent at cleaning. Friends visiting me earlier this week actually commented on the results of her work!
I’m still getting used to her rather heavily accented English, but we manage to communicate well enough. She turns up on time, nothing has gone missing and nothing broken either! Another of my friends is now on her waiting list.
So finally, I’ve found my cleaner, I just hope that she will be able to stay with me until I move.