What is specific about care work to West London workers? Not a great deal: conditions vary much more widely between specific types of care than from region to region, with the exception of scale. I’ve had experience working in a North London scheme for individuals on the autistic spectrum. I work for a company with 200 members working with seven colleagues and a team leader, responsible for ten individuals with various mental health diagnoses, primarily paranoid schizophrenia.
Terms and definitions
Different terms are used for similar jobs, so it’ll be useful to define these from the start. Care, social work and support work are termed ‘allied industries’. They cater for people without acute medical problems (those with acute medical problems would be in need of a health worker and most likely seen in a clinic or a hospital instead). The charges of workers in care and support are referred to in different ways: they are almost never “patients”, as care and support workers are not, as a rule, qualified medical professionals (though a mental health nurse may be a care coordinator – the person tasked by the local authority to ensure someone is receiving the support they need, or more cynically, keeping them away from acute services like secure mental health wards and processing centres). The people worked with may be “tenants” or “residents”, if they are living in a scheme administered by a housing association. They could also be “customers”, “clients” or “service users”, the former two terms becoming increasingly popular, as they are “purchasing” the support of the employer of the care or support worker (sometimes from their own flats or flats administered by a different organisation, usually another housing association). I usually prefer “tenant”, as it has a slightly less commercial element than the latter two.
The standard impression seems to be that tenants are looked after in a residential care home with a communal living area, but there has been a drift away from that towards “independent living” (each person having their own flat and “personalisation” of care). Independent living has had good and bad effects both for those experiencing it, those working with them and the wider community, but it’s safe to assume that the drive towards it was based on profit. A former CEO wrote that housing associations were the clearest success of Thatcher’s privatisation campaign. Shelter’s statistics showing housing stock from 2003 – 2014 showed owner occupied housing stayed stable at 14.7m~, privately rented increased from 2.5m to 4.6m properties and housing associations essentially took over what were formerly council properties: from 1.6m housing association properties to 2.3m and a decline from 2.4m council properties to just 1.6m.
What does care and support consist of?
For a housing support worker, the function is somewhere between an office clerk (answering phone calls, copying letters), a domestic worker (cleaning, cooking, shopping) and a landlord (demanding that tenants pay rent and bills). We also help prepare tenants for appointments, reassuring them that they’ll feel more comfortable 20 minutes in, where stress levels decline and working out who’ll need to be where given travel times. I feel that the job is unnecessary and many of the tasks associated it will be erased given a social revolution – given basic levels of empathy, anyone can assist others with their daily living and there will be far less to gain from exploitation.
Pay rates have remained consistently low. Our current contract makes reference to annual pay increases but for three years these were not given, without any explanation as to why. This year it was awarded given a satisfactory appraisal, but the company has reduced its contribution to the pension by 2% (to no apparent opposition). My previous employer gave an annual bonus which matched an inflation index (1.5% or so). Calling it a “bonus” and not referring to it in the contract meant they were under no obligation to grant it each year. My previous employer also paid perhaps double that to any staff member who’d had no sick days for a given year’s employment. The present employer prefers investigatory meetings rather than increased pay, giving staff members warnings after three discrete sickness absences of any length or one sickness period of around a week.
Workforce and racism
On an induction with our CEO, he stated that our company was distinct from others in that hiring occurred by merit, which was why it was so diverse – as opposed to Fox News, where everyone looks pretty much the same. This was deliberately concealing the truth: the vast majority of agency workers I’ve met, in my present placement and previous one, have been black, mostly from Africa, occasionally the Caribbean. Every CEO I’ve met has been white. Every member of staff in the central office where I went for training (which must have higher paid roles than frontline staff), was white. With black unemployment double that of white unemployment, it seems that more black people are willing to take jobs on the terms offered (below living wage, working weekends, possibility of having to do personal care). More black individuals, more subaltern (working/lumpen people) and more females will be diagnosed with mental health conditions than whites, although this does not account for the segregation of workers at different levels within care work. This segregation is an outward sign that racism is a problem. And my colleagues have indeed raised grievances related to discrimination. Over the course of the past half a year, a black director of care and support and a black human resources advisor have been hired. This is no substitute for worker control, but at least indicates that grievances can alter company policies. Unfortunately it’s likely for companies to veer in the opposite direction though, with more stringent immigration checks most likely impacting agency and casual workers first, since full time staff usually already have pretty comprehensive vetting. We met such a worker outside Southall job centre. He had been a care worker for three years but could not afford to get a new biometric passport that he needed as proof of residency (even though he had the correct visa to remain). As a result her was sacked and now claiming benefits.
A frequently encountered myth regarding care work is that carers are much more empathetic and that we get emotionally involved with our tenants. Although this is true for some people, it is a minority. I remember that a HR worker who was delivering training to new starters looked absolutely bewildered when someone who was formerly in HR revealed they’d given up higher pay for more or less that reason!
People’s motivation in the job largely depends on how they’re treated by managers e.g. a colleague would visit her previous scheme even on her day off to ensure tenants were thriving, whereas now she’ll leave shifts early and arrive late. I’ve been told off by a colleague for being too willing to assist tenants with their tasks – I instantly thought of Mr. Block, the cartoon character from old IWW comic strips, who was beaten up for his colleagues for not honouring informal “go slow” agreements. Wanting tenants do well doesn’t always translate into doing things on their behalf either – one of the values the company attempts to instil in us is “promoting independence”, but in real life, it’s almost always easier to do things on the behalf of tenants rather than with them. For example, if a tenant’s flat has to be cleaned and they’re watching television, grabbing their vacuum cleaner and mop will take half an hour, but convincing them to clean will potentially take much longer – and they’ll be much less likely to invite you back in.
Most people are drawn to care work in order to be paid, and most individuals move into care as they have no family members willing or able to take care of them. The pay itself isn’t stellar (£8.82 an hour, time and a half Christmas and New Years Eve), but I’ve found that collective overtime agreements for large employers mean they’re loathe to give out overtime, whereas flat rate overtime for support work means it’s cheaper to run full time staff down than to get agency workers in – meaning pay is only as low as it appears on the contract during sick leave or holidays.
Difficulties on the job
The first thing to note is that if you are a care worker outside of London it is near mandatory for you to drive elsewhere. This doesn’t mean increased pay for workers outside London, but this is somewhat offset by the much cheaper rent enjoyed by most of the country. The cheapest studio flats within a mile of my present workplace are £700, not including utilities or council tax – over half of my take-home pay after rent – in an area that a Telegraph article listed as one of the cheapest places to rent in London. Of my current colleagues, over half live with their parents: and we work for a charitable housing association.
Dealing with family members of a tenant can also be trying. Attempting to preserve the tenant’s confidentiality is one of the most provoking things for a family member, particularly if there’s someone in the team whose much more lax about sharing details. Another thing which tends to irritate family members is if you are a cover staff member – especially when there are longstanding problems in the flat of the tenant. On one cover shift I was placed on, I found myself apologising to an irate brother-in-law for a leak I wasn’t aware of and trying to discover a stopcock in a scheme I hadn’t visited before. Support work can be difficult even without these annoyances – from what I’ve heard, working in services for the homeless is one of the most difficult, perhaps followed by those for individuals with “learning disabilities”, children’s homes and nursing homes/hospices – children usually have specialist care workers though, with rates going up to £27k for cerebral palsy support. Support workers in hospitals keenly feel what Thorstein Veblen called “invidious comparisons” associated with hierarchy – in a hospital, that’d be, approximately: porter/ancillary worker, support worker, healthcare assistant, nurse (of different ranks), various grades of doctor (junior, specialist, consultant). In my current scheme, there are only support workers and a team leader – we’re responsible for cleaning the office. I think this is a good thing – Chomsky said that there are some jobs no-one wants to do and we all have a responsibility to do them, lightening the load on each individual. Not all of my colleagues agree, perhaps professional cleaners would take issue with that notion too…
In quieter schemes, support work tends to be dull. In 24 hour schemes, both managers and tenants are usually only seen during office hours. At all other points, you’re apt to see workers engaged in conversation, on phones or otherwise, using office equipment or wireless not for work purposes or reading. At no point does it get as repetitive as supermarket or warehouse work. But it certainly is ‘work.’ While there is no physical product, but surplus can be extracted from anyone in waged employment. In this case we’re merely keeping people out of sight of polite society. An economist from the King’s Fund delivered a training where he told us that paying someone to be looked after in their own flat is a lot cheaper for the state than paying for them to be in a psychiatric ward or in prison (prison guards and nurses being paid more than support workers, after all). It was pretty amusing to see the police officer protagonist in the film “Filth” describe “Care in the Community” as a left wing scheme – in reality, it was a cost saving exercise.
Conditions and rules vary from job to job which can be difficult to get your head around. For instance, we were explicitly told at my last job not to barter for support, meaning we couldn’t exchange services we were employed to do in return for good behaviour. We had to offer them unconditionally. But in my current job, we hold tobacco for one of the tenants and offer it to him in return for him taking his medication – in one action we’re depriving him of something he owns, encouraging something which is bad for his health and also bartering for support. When I remember the original training I got, the differences between practice and instruction are even greater. For example, we’re required to go on safeguarding training before being alone with tenants, but there are barely any details on what to do if the tenant is abusive or abused, physically or verbally. In some cases, rudimentary self-defence training may have even come in handy (though the company probably wants to avoid liability for even considering the possibility of physical self-defence). Medication training was a little more comprehensive, but some tenants have been prescribed medication prior to moving in and have insufficient notes as to why. Some are on medication which doesn’t cohere with their diagnoses, but specialist training would have to be arranged between their GP, psychiatrist or some other local health provisioner, which hasn’t been the case (we’re not expected or required to know this information right up until a crucial surgery or PIP health assessment, where it becomes a mark of major negligence not to know the precise details of a tenant’s medical history).
All these difficulties point towards some reasons as to why abuse of tenants occurs. I have a colleague who came from a care home for the elderly. He reported his manager to the police after his manager hit an individual with dementia he was meant to be caring for. The particular person in question was refusing to return to their bed and was quite delusional at the time – this was at the end of a 12-hour shift for both my colleague and his manager. The charge hit the manager, who ended up hitting the person back. The context does not make the act any better, but it does give indicators for where abuse may be more likely and perhaps how to prevent it. I think the risk is particularly severe when individuals lack mobility or communication. Not only will they be subject to opportunists, who know they’ll be incapable of personally reporting abuse, regular workers will begin to “depersonalise” them, to make it easier to conduct tasks such as personal care. Once they’re seen as a job to be done rather than a person with needs, it’s easier to ignore the social conventions regarding personal space, but also then to commit acts of abuse.
There are other minor points to note. Another would be when an agency worker was heard snoring on shift, our area manager said we had to call another scheme once hourly throughout the duration of a waking night shift, ostensibly as a “supportive measure”, since they couldn’t afford a second waking night shift member for that scheme. They must not have expected us to actually engage with the other scheme, but when we did, we found out that they were as annoyed with the monitoring exercise as we were and often told us not to bother to make the calls. In yet another case, I had a meeting with my area manager for two serious offences. One of these was unauthorised overtime: I had sent an email four hours after my shift had been due to end, which alerted them to the fact that I was still there. They said if they found out I was doing non-work related activity, they’d ask me to refund my pay for that overtime. As it happened, I didn’t even claim it – I’ve done similar stretches on three different occasions without claiming it, usually to support colleagues (quite often when they’re formulating grievances, but I didn’t mention this to my area manager). The other thing I’d done was update a document detailing medication incidents (such as missing or refusing doses), which was meant to be the responsibility of my line manager, but she hadn’t done it in several months when I found it – and this meeting wasn’t for several months after that, indicating she’d forgotten about it entirely.
My previous scheme had a rule against discussing politics with service users or even amongst staff in the office. This was flouted once by an external trainer, who advised staff on training to encourage tenants to protest against the income reduction initiated by a coalition government. The rule in general though makes sense: receiving support is part of the tenancy agreement for our tenants. If one of their support workers was massively enthusiastic about the Empire League or something, it’d be pretty much intolerable to have to talk with them about it daily. There was a retired tenant who received party propaganda exclusively from UKIP, so the reverse could be just as bad for care workers.
Floating support feels very different, particularly in that interactions are frequently limited to tenants (and the only time spent with managers is when recording logs in a central office). In many cases, this can give one much more time with a tenant – however, spending the prescribed time with them can be a little exhausting if they don’t have fixed tasks to do. For example, one tenant had a flat covered in dust, would say they didn’t receive help, then say that they would do it themselves if asked whether they would like help dusting. If tenants in their own flats refuse to answer, this can vastly free up a day and perhaps be an opportunity to skive, or it could seriously throw off plans (for example, if caught in a rain storm and using public transport, knowing the next tenant won’t be available for another two hours). One tenant in social housing I visited was situated in the heart of Belgravia, within walking distance of Harrods, others have their front door smashed in. In recent years, the government and its monitoring bodies have loosened regulations about permitted market activities. For example, housing associations can now define as “affordable” rents at 80% of the market’s value and are also entitled to “permitted market activity”. This means they can sell off stock in prime locations (for my old company, this meant houses overlooking Hyde Park) for several million pounds, I was groped by a tenant who was on parole after serving time for committing murder. He’d dropped several other workers after showing them sexually explicit videos, but the company I was working for didn’t see fit to make him only receive support in public or to have two support workers in at one time. This much I could understand (from the perspective of wanting to cut costs), but I was also required to make an official police report, despite telling the company that I didn’t believe in the penal system. For what it’s worth, I think abusers should be deprived of as many opportunities to carry out attacks as possible and perhaps should be monitored collectively in an otherwise free society – this is the crux of many debates I’ve had with colleagues on anarchism.
Company practices vary. Although my current company allows hour long paid breaks and contractual sick pay, (we were even told that we can have our breakfast when we come onto shift at 07:00 without subtracting this time off from our regular break!), the trend will probably be a worsening of conditions, especially if there is a lack of struggles to fight back against the incremental encroachments of the company.
It’s not just the bosses who can be rubbish. Some discouraging attitudes by care staff can be witnessed within the workplace too. A service manager used the phrase “they have mental health” as a way of referring to “mental health diagnoses” or “issues”, which sounds quite odd. On one training another manager said that they believed the phases of the moon caused mental health deterioration and that the term “lunatic” was accurate (derived from “lunar”) – with no supporting evidence and without any real challenge from the other two managers delivering the training. Agency workers and zero hour workers are routinely dismissed by permanent staff members, with little awareness that using agency workers represents a definite trend of casualisation. All current support workers are dependent on the good will of their employer and beyond then, the commissioners for care (usually the local authority). At present, there does not appear to be any legal restriction for charitable organisations replacing employees with volunteers. Their only real obstacle to doing so may be the impossibility of ensuring the loyalty of volunteers, since companies are prohibited from offering contracts to volunteers. Companies may offer an equivalent “volunteer agreement”, but would be breaking the minimum wage law if they try and offer other forms of compensation below minimum wage. Since volunteers don’t have the usual hangups of workers, such as being primarily responsible for rent or having a union kitty that could be confiscated by the government, walkouts by them could be even more effective than a regularly planned strike. However, schemes such as workfare could cause an upheaval in the charitable sector much more rapidly than any other, since the strata of paid employees could be more or less wiped out and as benefits don’t really allow for saving, strike funds aren’t practicable.
Other frequent comments from colleagues concern their desire for a reduction in tax, even if accompanied by a reduction in benefits. Even under a position of extreme cynicism, where we assume workers don’t care about tenants at all, this would cut the income of the company – less council tax, less available for housing benefit (despite over 5m people now claiming it), lower income, less pay for support workers. Colleagues have even expressed support for a less progressive tax structure (while it may seem fair on the face of it, those with higher incomes benefit more from state institutions like the police and also spend a lower proportion of their income on necessities). The one thing I haven’t heard from anyone except for area managers is that pay is adequate or surplus to needs. Area managers in two schemes have stressed that we are better off than our tenants (implying that we were pitting tenants great needs against our petty desires), but as far as I could tell, they didn’t renounce the increased pay their position came with. Area manager positions tend to be advertised for around £40k (in addition to knowledge of support, they have to be familiar with housing and care law and agencies involved). CEOs also have to anticipate market trends and they get around the £100k mark, with a few over £400k according to Inside Housing for 2016 – about 24 times a frontline worker, a much less marked distinction than the 2004 median rate for CEOs of private companies in the US. Workers seem very quick to forgive management – colleagues barely avoiding being sacked in a disciplinary will discuss applying for a management position shortly afterwards, sometimes even after lodging complaints against line managers (perhaps assuming that the company will not close ranks around management).
Trends in care work
Boroughs such as Ealing advertise the fact that the council tax rate has remained the same for several years and the 2017/2018 budget promises no additional government funding for local authorities. The impacts can be seen in the abolition or restriction of emergency grants, contribution towards council tax for previously exempt tenants (including those living in supported accommodation, frequently meaning council tax is being paid out of income tax via PIP[DSA] or ESA – which at least is less regressive), more parking fines and ultimately choosing the provider paying the least to its workers and with the lowest budgets for training, repairs and funding for tenants. The only drag on this trend is the high amount of workers leaving, with the cost of using agency workers to cover shifts, legal requirements over providing medication training and having DBS (disclosure and barring service) vetted workers meaning that paying minimum wage may actually cost more for companies in the long run. In the short term though, the tendency is for a downward pressure on wages: care workers in Brighton have seen pay reduced from over £10/hour to the minimum wage in takeovers. The “transfer of undertaking – protection of employment” agreements are meant to cover workers in such cases, but protection is usually only afforded to employers – they can fire workers or cut pay according to the “needs of the business” (but can’t rehire for the same role, at least). A claimant protesting outside a job centre in Slough against sanctions said that she was paid over £19k a year as a meals on wheels deliverer in the 90s, while it’s now possible to find floating support care roles advertising for a driver with their own vehicle paying minimum wage. Charities claim they’ll promote “responsible” use of zero hour contracts, but this is never defined – reasonable for whom? I know I am an exception, but I was on a zero hour contract I was relatively happy with after leaving my full time position in Finchley, since I was studying full time and could take weekend shifts if I were free. The convenience was limited by the fact that we got a new manager who wasn’t in on the weekends and massively misinterpreted what I’d do on shifts (for instance, when out with a tenant I offered to meet another worker on the high street to hand them keys, which they took as an indicator that I was panicking and needed support) and that I had to spend countless hours wrangling with HMRC over tax codes and exemptions, since I was also working 20~ hours a week at the coop. In my experience, there are few indicators of flexibility in how shifts are given out. There tends to be huge variance depending on the nature of the service and the good nature of its manager. Some allow fewer than nine hours between shifts, some ask you what shifts you want, other allocate shifts with no input from you to, meaning a variety of waking nights, early mornings, day shifts and sleepins. Others hire specifically for nights (unfortunately, these seem to be highly popular amongst mothers with the bulk of childcare responsibilities – which must be hugely draining).
One of the most controversial topics in care and one which is not likely to be understood outside of it, is over the deprivation of liberties. There are five hallmarks regarding care and capacity, one of which is to assume capacity in as many fields as possible, another is to support tenants to make unwise decisions. In practice, this means placing as little restrictions on what the tenants want to do as possible, including skipping health appointments and purchasing luxuries over food. It feels very counterintuitive when first starting care, but we’d want the same for ourselves, if not in the lives of others around us. Training on this issue is quite good in care, perhaps more so than in psychiatry – a friend on the foundation year as a medical doctor told me they’d turned down a request for gender reassignment from a patient as they “lacked capacity” since they were on a ward – but this by no means jibes with the spirit of the Mental Capacity Act, which states that their lack of capacity in other respects does not impact how they’d like to express their gender.
There are opportunities for education in the role, again, depending on the workplace, too. One of the conditions of support provision monitored by the CQC (care quality commission, one of the regulatory bodies which carry out periodic inspections) is demonstrating educational opportunities for staff, including hiring those with Health and Social Care Level 3 diplomas or equivalents or offering the opportunity for staff to take it. One years employment in my previous scheme passed without this being alluded to, despite it being in our contracts, which made sense, since half the team had left within a year. At my present scheme, all those without degrees have been offered it and three have taken it up.
One of the standards required of support providers by the CQC is a “duty of candour”, that providers are honest about their ratings – though quite often, senior managers over-egg the pudding. For instance, one area manager in a previous scheme claimed that she was grateful for both the elimination of time and a half for holidays, weekends and unsociable hours and for the recession, as it meant she could hire workers with master’s degrees (Barbara Ehrenreich points out that it’s really not possible to discern workers with and without tertiary education in her book “Nickel and Dimed”). I happened to know this manager was a committed Christian, but she was inadvertently performing capitalism’s function in sundering feudal relations – treat Christmas or Sunday as any other day and it loses mystical connotations. She appeared oblivious that the workers present may have had different experiences of the recession: namely, reducing one’s projections for the future, experiencing contempt from workers at the Job Centre, in some cases organising to attempt to do something about it. All of these give us a sense of sympathy with others in similar situations and reduce it towards those taking advantage of such a burden. Our department head also revealed he was committed to Thatcher, but swung around to New Labour. In other cases, friendly phrases can actually be irritating. Managers and social workers have a tendency to wish us “good weekends” when the phrase has had no meaning for me for some time. My last “weekend” was towards the end of February and my next will not be until June. At other times, managers can reveal profound ignorance of the law. A manager told me that she was under the impression that company policy took precedence over statute except in case of a dispute. Another was adamant that the right to leave the premises on one’s break was overriden by the fact that our breaks were contractual, but there seems to be no legal bearing to this. Perhaps some of this stems from a lack of class consciousness – a former team leader and general manager were more or less gleefully discussing the potential of firing someone over failing to follow guidelines on diabetes and discussing likely defences they’d come up with in front of me in the office. If I had any faith that disciplinaries were preceded by impartial “fact finding”, it was surely eradicated at that point. In an appraisal meeting, I said I’d have no interest in becoming a manager and this was met with the same lack of comprehension.
What about the future of care?
One thing which is stressed and anticipated is the ageing population. Advances in healthcare, sanitation, agriculture and transport mean that lifespans are projected to continue expanding and even if average lifespan remains stable, the current rate of population growth will mean an older median population a decade from now – median lifespans increased six years from 1974 to 2014). This will transform the economy as more people are employed to assist those affected by the negative impacts of ageing, such as dementia, osteoporosis etc. These are simultaneously accompanied by calls to raise the retirement age, to derive as much labour as possible from the population. Workers are already signing out of the Working Time Agreement as a matter of course (with every job I’ve worked, it’s been offered with the contract – obvious implication, fail to sign, fail to secure the job). With the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, there will be even fewer legal limits on working hours.
Potentials for organising
The unions are present in the care sector but this has not done much to empower workers on the ground and improve conditions. Unison was promoted on the home page of my previous companies website and a Credit Union promoted heavily during our staff meeting, but senior management on induction training said that union representation was redundant as we had a staff council. A staff debrief following internal surveying by the company found that 80% of staff were unhappy with pay and that a higher proportion of black members of staff were unhappy with conditions of work than white. Both of these were glossed over, as if these were unavoidable. The Unison housing branch appears to host one annual meeting advertised for members, but otherwise operates fairly quietly – three colleagues who’ve been repped by Unison officials in West London had favourable reports of their performance though. The Unite housing branch is much more active (and I have been a member of it for approximately three years). The branch was organising over legal precedent regarding sleepin pay, which indicated workers were entitled to the minimum wage throughout their sleepin since they were required to be physically present at the scheme and instructed to carry out work in the event of an emergency (as requested by councils, usually at the request of the family members of tenants). These requests have been formally declined by my company and there doesn’t seem to be an impetus to pursue this further. The Unite branch (which two colleagues are members of), while clearly useful to workers rather than blatantly conciliatory, is under the control of the Socialist Party. Someone raised a concern about domestic violence allegations against Steve Hedley during a debate hosted by them I attended and were quickly shut down by three of the branch officials. During training on pay hosted by Unite, one representative mentioned that more workers were using food banks and the discussion quickly shifted to pay day companies. While loans and fines (particularly driving fines, like congestion, bus lanes, parking and insurance claims) contribute to people having insufficient subsistence funds, they are not the primary enemies. more important things would probably be ineligibility for benefits like housing (private renting from a landlord not accepting housing benefit) or having obligations to family members.
What are social things support workers can organise around then? If pay remains implausible, then shift allocation is a good place to start [to reduce travel time for workers. Contributing to shift provision and tasks completed may slightly increase the work to do, but also helps a support worker be less distant from their actual workplace. How can that be accomplished? In some cases, it’s possible tenants will be sympathetic. Some of the tenants at my current scheme had jobs where they worked long hours and have openly said on feedback forms that we should be paid more (without prompting from us). In other cases, voluntary overtime bans can force the company to rely on agency workers, costing them money. This could be done without any explicit statement to the company although there would need to be some way for the company to make the connection between this action and the demand of workers. There are other ways to make the company lose money e.g. using the office equipment for purposes they’re not explicitly intended for.
One thing which slows down organisation attempts is the high volume of turnover. This is often the case for similarly paid work with low training requirements. Support work is popular amongst students, who’ll take long hours and zero hour contracts and move from service to service. Those with childcare responsibilities often take up support work and drop it to focus more on domestic responsibilities too. Others will take it as ancillary to a primary career. If someone is less invested in the job it can make it more difficult to galvanise people to improve the situation.
Schemes vary widely, with some permitting hardly any interactions with colleagues unmonitored, to others being quite free – but we still need to figure out a way for people to get together. Joining with others in similar situations to discuss our common problems may give us the impetus to do something about it. Because of the varied nature of work and workplaces, this would probably have to be outside of a specific workplace setting. If anyone is interesting in thinking about this more, please get in touch!