Alzheimer's: These humble and dedicated people who kept my gran's dignity should be celebrated

Social care is among the lowest paid sectors in the economy, but we exploit their goodwill. An overhaul is needed, not just a sticking plaster

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The Independent Online

I started to worry when my gran made me a cup of tea with dishwasher tablets.  She sweetly passed round a plate of bourbons while I wondered if this was deliberate, some kind of joke. Tea shouldn't fizz.

Then things started disappearing. The remote control vanished, only to be found wrapped neatly in toilet roll and hidden in the cistern. Her glasses and my house keys were next. It became part of the routine to check the loo for valuables before leaving gran's bungalow.

Alzheimer's disease often starts with anecdotes. Many families who have suffered the devastating long goodbye of a disease that destroys their loved ones will recognise these early stories. I cringe at doctors' letters that describe the "delightfully muddled lady" they have seen with memory problems. There is nothing delightful about dementia. But it is by far a better option to keep spirits high, to make allowances, and above all to be kind to people with an illness that robs them of themselves.

My grandma was one of the lucky ones. After her diagnosis she spent eight peaceful years living in the home she loved, and died in her own bed with friends and family close at hand. She was able to stay in her council bungalow thanks to the incredible work of her social care workers. These humble and dedicated people who maintained my gran's dignity when she had nothing else left should be celebrated. Instead, they earn minimum wage and are asked to juggle impossible caseloads. The people we rely upon the most are the ones we reward the least.

Social care is among the lowest paid sectors in the economy - a basic wage for an adult residential care worker is just £6.32 an hour. We exploit their goodwill. We overburden them with fifteen minute flying visits, where there is enough time to escort a client to the toilet or make her dinner, but not both. Care workers are heroes, but they are not superhuman. Like everyone else, with enough pressure they will break.

David Cameron wants to make work pay. He wants the employed to always be better off than those on benefits. But what about when they are one and the same? There is a side to our benefits crisis that has nothing to do with unemployment. Nearly one million people in full time work still need to claim housing benefit to survive. Social care workers struggle on their salary because their pay is not fair. Jeremy Hunt has failed to fulfil his promise of a 1 per cent pay rise, but even this wouldn't solve the problem at the heart of care. Only a radical rise in care workers' minimum wage and training programmes that allow better career progression could make this vital job a viable one too.

The social care bill and the integration of health and social services planned for 2018 will create an era of unprecedented reform. There's a danger this could be little more than a sticking plaster for the care crisis our ageing population faces. The Prime Minister speaks of tough decisions, but continues to find money to fund pet projects like tax breaks for married couples. The overhaul of social care is an opportunity for Cameron to make a truly tough decision, and guarantee a living wage for social care workers. If we want good care, we need to pay for it.