I fell into the job by chance, but don’t regret it. We must teach men about the rewards of the role to tackle the recruitment crisis in care
I’m a male care worker and, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a deliberate choice. I’d worked in local government for more than 20 years but came to a crossroads of sorts when my mother died, my partner left and I lost the house we’d been sharing. I fell into a career in older people’s care and don’t regret it one iota.
I leave work each day knowing I have made a difference to other people’s lives. I’ve found the perfect balance in my life as I also work as a freelance writer, allowing me to indulge in my hobbies alongside my shifts at the care home. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
I even take some hobbies into the home and have introduced a regular pub night, where we all gather together for a singalong. To see people joining in with the songs that connect them to their past is special and gratifying.
But the care sector cannot rely on people like me or – more to the point – men like me just falling into it.
The gender imbalance in care work is clear. To me, this seems odd, and to the sector as a whole it should be a major concern.
With people living longer than ever, we need more care workers in general. The sector faces a shortfall of more than 700,000 staff by 2037 – a prospect I certainly do not want to be faced with in my own old age. To recruit anywhere near that number, we need to start attracting more men.
Despite traditional perceptions of care, men are by no means less equipped for the role. Anyone with a caring nature is perfectly capable of dealing with the more hands-on aspects of personal care.
In fact, it is crucial to have a balance of male and female members of staff as, where personal care is concerned, those living in care homes generally prefer someone of the same sex to do the job. The role also sometimes requires the physical strength of a man.
But a quarter of young men say they would never consider becoming a care worker. Why is this? Perhaps it is because care work has a reputation as a female-dominated workforce – a catch-22 situation the sector must escape.
Stereotyping care as women’s work is a ridiculous and outdated assumption that must change. Care is an important, rewarding and often challenging role for everyone, regardless of gender.
I’m lucky enough to have never experienced any stigma about working with older people but that is not the case for everyone. We all have a role to play in overcoming gender stereotypes; reiterating crude presumptions about male care workers is factually inaccurate, irresponsible and damaging to the sector.
The comments by the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, about being cautious of men working with children was outrageous, but it perpetuated many of the myths and assumptions about men working with vulnerable people that plague older people’s care. It is a strange dichotomy that while a male GP, doctor or psychiatrist is welcomed in their role, male staff on the frontline of practical care are less commonly encountered and often viewed with suspicion.
To get more men into the sector, the government would be wise to encourage people to gain experience of care work from school age. It would benefit everyone to be familiarised with the roles care workers do, from forging friendships between different generations to reducing the loneliness of some older people. It would awaken young people to the many charms of the job – pub nights and all.
My job doubles up as a welcome lesson in life – something I certainly never got from working in local government. No two days are the same and there’s a lot of laughter and joy in among all the hard work.
The majority of my days working at Anchor’s Orchard Court are spent chatting with older people and being on my feet. Both of these elements of the job are a bonus for me and if we could only promote them properly it would no doubt benefit recruitment for the sector. To me, what is hugely attractive is that care homes have a real community setting and an inclusive spirit among all the men and women who make up the team and residents.