Show them that you care too

27th August 2004 at 01:00
I'm not quite sure how this happens. I get paid, go to the bank for some cash and then go back, and back, and back . . . Maybe I just can't face reality, and take out a realistic amount for the week. Maybe my growing lads are needing more handouts and so often that I forget to add it all up.

Maybe if I stopped buying all the special offers, reduced for quick sale, and two for the price of one . . .

But nearly 30 grand a year is twice the average wage for the area I live in. It's more than three times what some of the cleaners, office staff and teaching assistants get. How do they manage? An accountant friend has just got promotion - with a wage that more than doubles mine. She's smart, but so am I, and so is the care assistant I work with.

My pal's high wage reflects her high status. Supposedly. Just as mine reflects my middle status. But I have to argue for my care assistant. Why should her job have a low status, when the work she does is so important?

Let's call her Mary. Her job is to help us work with special needs pupils.

She sees to their personal needs - but working with these children in a mainstream setting requires such a degree of tact, and of trust. Mary is the one they tell their tales to, and she will know more about their lives than anyone else. She has that difficult task of deciding when to share those confidences with other staff.

She also supervises them at lunchbreaks and intervals, no mean feat when the pupils can be in several places at once, can want to play with her, talk to her and need her help in the loo.

She helps the pupils in the class, nudging them on, explaining bits they don't understand, teaching bits and pieces (as well as, or better than, you or I can sometimes). And care assistants have little real authority - so must do it without confrontation, without getting their backs up.

I have noticed Mary's standards echo the ones she had when bringing up her own family. "I wouldn't let one of mine speak too rudely, and I'm damn sure the kids here won't either."

She cares for them in the same way, worrying if they are grubby or hungry, or not best cared for at home. And she cares for us teachers - ever helpful, ever supportive. I hope she feels her care is reciprocated, because I value her as highly, if not more, than anyone else in the school.

It is perhaps unrealistic to say we should be paid the same - except we both work to the best of our ability, and we're both tired when we get home. Just as my super-rich pal is.

Care assistants aren't in unions - they can't afford the dues. They haven't much of a voice. But isn't it time we began to tell them how much we value them - and show it by a pay rise.

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