Dagenham carers battle for respect as supermarkets continue to deny priority access

PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 April 2020

Carer Toni Rutter and her client Tanya Brawn on the way to a hospital appointment. Picture: Toni Rutter

Carer Toni Rutter and her client Tanya Brawn on the way to a hospital appointment. Picture: Toni Rutter


Every Thursday evening the country pauses to salute an NHS valiantly battling coronavirus.

Asda stores are experiencing long queues during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Cash BoyleAsda stores are experiencing long queues during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Cash Boyle

This weekly ritual – which started three weeks ago – is also a show of appreciation for carers, whose work has never mattered more.

Local carers tell the Post that, while they know their role is important, they feel less respected than their NHS worker counterparts.

These carers don’t currently get to enjoy the designated shopping times that have rightly been set aside for NHS workers, which they claim makes an already tough job even more difficult.

The four women who spoke to the Post work for clients as part of an Independent Living Scheme, which doesn’t fall under the NHS.

Behind each story is a shared goal; to no longer feel “second rate” in what they do.

Toni Rutter has been a carer for 25 years. She works 12-hour days looking after a client with kidney failure, who has been shielded due to her condition.

Toni’s tasks now include buying groceries, which can add hours to her day as she isn’t an NHS worker.

She can’t return empty-handed, nor does she want to. All she asks is to be treated on a par with the “fantastic” NHS workers.

Toni emphasises that, by caring for those who might otherwise end up in the hospital, carers relieve the public health system.

All four have experienced problems at Asda, with Toni refused priority entry despite having the relevant ID and a supporting letter from the council.

Morale is “low”, she sats, adding: “Some people see us as bum wipers, nothing more.”

The story is much the same for Diane Pearson, who has been a carer since the age of 16.

She is frustrated by the impact this problem is having on her working life.

Diane cares for six clients, two of whom are bed-bound. A growing task list means her time is more precious than ever.

The 60-year-old feels caught in a catch-22 position; if she doesn’t wait, her clients may be deprived of something they need. If she does, she may be late visiting another client.

From a family of carers, Diane says: “I just want to do my job to the best of my ability”.

But as she approaches her 61st birthday, she feels demoralised by not being given the respect she feels she has earned.

Sandra Haslett says that carers feel like “nothing”. In 12 years, Sandra has learned how important her job is, but says not having priority access to supermarkets is typical of the “lack of support” felt in the industry.

Sandra feels so downtrodden that she almost cried when a lady thanked her in Morrisons a week ago. So rare is the appreciation that the carer was overwhelmed.

Donna Burberry is damning in her criticism of an “appalling” situation.

She says: “We are not certified and recognised as healthcare workers or as the government puts it, frontline workers.

“Something needs to be done so we are appropriately recognised, not only now but in the future.”

Having been a carer for seven years, Donna believes that how she and her colleagues are treated now will set a precedent for the future.

She cares for five clients, one of whom is bed-bound and requires a double-up. A double-up is when two carers manage an individual, which is problematic if Donna or her colleague are stuck in a queue. The consequence of this, according to Donna, is that “the client is not getting the appropriate care that is required”.

Each carer accepts that the job exposes them to greater risk. They accept this because they love what they do. What is harder to stomach is feeling disrespected. The carers want this to change.

When asked about its policy, Asda said: “We know that there are many other customers who have equally important jobs working in the care industry, and we hope that common sense and compassion is used when deciding who isn’t permitted in store during the priority hours.”

Barking and Dagenham Council added: “We have previously issued our personal assistant workforce with letters confirming the importance of the work that they do, but they are not being accepted by all supermarkets.

“We are reaching out to the local supermarket managers to see if we can reach an agreement to give them priority, and how we can help.”

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