The Care Workers’ Charity Responds to Channel 4 Drama ‘Help’
Last night, alongside millions of others across the UK, we tuned in to Channel 4’s new social care drama ‘Help’- staring the acting powerhouses’ that are Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham. As the UK’s Charity for the social care workforce, we were proud that the sector and its outstanding workers were represented in this moving and powerful film.
The acting of all involved was phenomenal- with the mood and setting of the piece perfectly conveying the apocalyptic nature of the experience endured by those who worked in the social care sector during the pandemic. We were pleased there was a focus on illustrating the importance of relationships in social care work. Care work is a vocation centred around relationships; knowing and understanding those who you are supporting, giving them time, and making a difference to their lives. This is something that is often overlooked, and perceived to be ‘a soft skill’- contributing to the perception (and indeed, Government categorisation) of social care workers as ‘low skill’- so we were pleased to see this recognised in the social media response to the programme. Sarah has to phone the family of one of her residents to tell them he has passed away- a heart breaking reality for so many care workers. His death devastates her, a feeling that will be all too familiar to anyone who has worked in social care and has lost someone they were supporting. Through this, the strength of relationships on which the sector is built is powerfully illustrated.
We cannot praise ‘Help’ enough for the way it accurately portrayed the feelings of despair and abandonment felt by those who work in the sector. This was devastatingly seen in the lack of PPE (Sarah is forced to wear a bin bag apron for ‘protection’ in the night shift scene) and in the illustration of care home managers trying desperately to source PPE for their staff- having being told there is none available, he is forced to improvise with masks from a builder friend. The PPE issues are well shown, and the inclusion at the very end of the drama of the statistics comparing PPE distribution to social care to that received by the NHS are particularly harrowing, and important to demonstrate.
Further, ‘Help’ reminds us of the complete lack of guidance and support that was given to social care workers; abandoned by the Government, they faced these horrendous challenges on their own. The viewer watches as Sarah frantically phones the GP, Out of Hours Service, 111 and finally 999 to access emergency medical care for her resident- and is told she is on her own. These experiences break her, and lead to the characters ‘escape’ with Tony- and the drama’s conclusion. Although this aspect is obviously farfetched we understand that this was to represent how broken she was and demonstrates her desperately trying to protect him. The reality saw social care workers moving into care homes, and the homes of the people they supported, and not seeing their families or loved ones for months on end.
For a fictional drama, this shows very well what the experience was for people in social care- with the NHS and healthcare sector being prioritised, care workers not being given guidance, and an appalling lack of PPE. Moreover, it illustrated how they worked (and continue to work) through constant pressure, grief and trauma- with no provision of nationwide mental health support, or occupational health assistance available to them. They were left to fend for themselves.
In light of this, we as a charity cannot begin to comprehend the content of the Government’s recent Social Care Statement which will leave care workers out of pocket- with an increase in income tax, and no prospect of a pay rise. We further remain astonished that the English Government refused to give social care workers any form of bonuses- as was the case in other nations. We believe that if this was any other sector (and we can see this from healthcare), there would be financial rewards, public recognition in national awards to workers, and talk of heroism. Social care still remained the villain of the accepted narrative. We hope that ‘Help’ ensures people understand that this was not the case- people sacrificed their lives, mental health, and families to do their best. This must be recognised- if not now, then when?
The Care Workers’ Charity provides free financial and wellbeing support to social care workers in crisis. We help as many as we can, but we can’t do it alone. Please give what you can:
Karolina Gerlich, CEO of The Care Workers’ Charity