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Sharp increases in anxiety, and mental health concerns in care, workers’ union finds

Three-quarters of care workers have experienced worsened mental health as a result of their work during the pandemic, according to workers’ union GMB.

A survey of more than 1,200 care workers conducted between December and January found that: 

  • 75 per cent of care workers say that their work during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious negative impact on their mental health
  • Care workers report anxiety levels are almost half as high (44 per cent higher) than all employees in the wider economy
  • Care workers’ mental health declined throughout the second wave: care workers reported poorer mental health in December/January than at the start of the second wave in September/October
  • Some groups of care workers were more likely to report poor mental health: women, disabled, residential, and care workers who were only entitled to statutory sick pay all reported lower mental health scores. 

Specifically, respondents said: 

  • 69 per cent agreed that their work was causing them stress or impacting on their mental health 
  • 75 per cent agreed that their work during the pandemic had had a serious negative impact on their mental health.

The main causes of work-related poor mental health were reported as:

  • Fear of taking the virus home (67 per cent) 
  • Not being able to see family/friends (65 per cent) 
  • Fear for their own safety (49 per cent) 
  • Balancing work and caring responsibilities (42 per cent) 
  • Financial pressures (36 per cent).

GMB also finds that respondents’ scores for happiness had fallen by 12 per cent and self-reported anxiety levels had risen by 6 per cent since the summer.  

GMB said that low pay, insecure working, and inadequate sick pay are all contributing factors to poor mental health in the sector. The average care worker in England is paid £8.80 an hour and a third of care workers are employed on a zero hours contract, according to figures reported by employers.

GMB is campaigning for higher wages, full sick pay so care workers can afford to self-isolate, better support from employers including separate recording of mental health absences, and national funding for new mental health services for care workers including talking therapy and specialised PTSD support. 

Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer for care, said: 

“Members describe having to nurse much loved residents as they died from this terrible disease, while all the while worrying about their own safety and how they were going to pay the bills.  

“If any good is to come out of this pandemic then it must include urgent reform of the sector. Ministers and employers need to explain how they are going to care for the people who have cared for us.”  

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