A small column in this week’s Private Eye caught my attention, as it relates to an ongoing struggle to maintain a way of working at a unique service for people with learning disabilities. But why do they oppose the alternative?
In the news this week is a group of people who are protesting against the removal of a system of volunteer co-workers that is the essence of the Camphill Village Trust’s Botton community in Yorkshire.
What is special about CVT?
Camphill communities are residential “life-sharing” communities and schools for adults and children with learning disabilities and other special needs, and they provide services and support for work, learning and daily living. The unique quality of these communities, founded in the 1930s on a basis of mutual respect and nurture, is that the non-learning disabled residents are unpaid. They share their lives with others and work together to form sustainable and supportive communities.
The principals of CVT and its philosophy are interesting and over the years have divided opinion, but this latest issue is more so as it relates to the actions of the trustees of the CVT’s Botton Community, essentially forcing the co-workers into employed status on account of advice around taxation.
As an employer of care staff and a user of volunteers, the question posed for me is whether a person’s paid status implies greater recognition of the contribution they make, than if they gave of their time for nothing. Is a paid staff member more valued than an unpaid one?
Some of this may relate to the assumption that in order to be effective at work, there needs to be some tangible reward; a salary for example. It is not enough to want to work for the feelgood factor, apparently. Unless we remunerate we cannot motivate. Yet thousands of people volunteer to help others for no reason other than the warm glow it gives them.
When it comes to providing support for people who can be, ahem, challenging, it seems unthinkable that anyone would want to do it for free. And as if to reinforce this, I heard a team leader announce loudly the other day, when being slapped by a furious teenager, that she ‘wasn’t paid enough for this’. At the time, I felt inclined to agree, yet our cheery volunteer bus driver is regularly assaulted by kids who find leaving the vehicle a challenge.
Does being a paid carer create a barrier?
In defending their right to continue to be unpaid, the CVT Botton campaigners use the description I quote in the title of this post; That there is a ‘subtle apartheid ‘ in the relationships between client and carer when the carer is paid. Does that really go away when the carer is unpaid? Is altruism only a trait of the volunteer, or can you be a good person on a salary? I would argue that there will always be a division between the carer and the cared-for, that will only become an apartheid if attitudes make it so. It is possible to afford dignity to those we support and accept them as valid and equal individuals, there will always be a difference but it doesn’t need to be negative.
Camphill’s ethos is working on many levels, and I support their right to continue to work in this way to support and value people with learning disability. But I also think whether paid or unpaid, there are people out there working who don’t see it as ‘us and them’, who go the extra mile even when there’s little thanks or low (or no) pay.
What do you think?