Care transactions
Care transactions

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Care transactions

6 Audio clip 5: Alex Zinga

Figure 4: Alex Zinga

At the time of the interview, Alex Zinga had recently turned 60. She lived on her own in a small terraced house in Sheffield. Of her immediate family only one sister survived, with whom she says she didn't get on. Her friends were ‘far flung’. She had had an illness, which made her ‘floppy’ off and on, for over 20 years. It began when she was an air stewardess and came back from Africa with a mysterious paralysis. For a while, she was free of the symptoms, changed career and became a college lecturer in English and drama, among other subjects. With the menopause her condition seemed to return and she needed support with washing, dressing, cooking and cleaning. She opted for direct payments and paid for two carers to look after her during the week.

She also paid the mother of Kathryn Shipley (one of her carers) to do the cleaning. Kathryn's husband would occasionally do odd jobs for her – shopping trips or outings. For example, the night before the interview she had been to a book signing by the writer Germaine Greer, who was visiting Sheffield. She paid for this help with money from the Independent Living Fund. This became possible after she was assessed by the local authority for the higher level of care and was deemed to be in need of 36.5 hours' community care a week. However, she opted for less care than this, preferring to be left on her own some of the time.

Alex preferred to advertise locally for her carers and found that women in their thirties with young children at school worked best with her. She was exacting when it came to interviewing. She liked people to be ‘efficient and clean and tidy and smart and hygienic’, but she was also looking for people who could laugh with her and cope with her straight talking.

With some of the women she has employed she felt she has been as much a counsellor as a boss. Often she had found herself advising them after they've had problems at home with their husbands. She was concerned that some of these young women had been down-trodden and lacking in the motivation needed to change their lives.

Alex got help and advice with sorting out wages, insurance and tax for her personal assistants from the local disability centre, and managed to keep things in order by having a separate bank account for the direct payments. The centre also helped with drawing up the details of contracts in the past.

Kathryn's only similar experience of this type of work was caring for her mother for two years after she had a stroke. She had worked for Alex for two years. Alex paid for her four weeks' holiday and was flexible about time off. Kathryn said that she'd only ever want to work for a woman and that she enjoyed working with Alex. The only thing she doesn't like doing for Alex is rubbing sesame oil into her skin, because it makes her slip and slide. The only skills she thought she needed were being able to lift and cook, and to be tidy and clean. She had got to know Alex so well she could almost anticipate what she needed.

Given that this working relationship felt like a friendship, Alex was asked how she managed the boundary between being a friend and being an employer. She explained:

Christmas and Easter and birthdays, you know, a little something for a little bit of appreciation … you know, this sort of thing. But, apart from that, no, we stick with wages, because otherwise I feel that they might start to expect presents every other week … if, as Kathryn did for me the other week, she made me some flapjacks, I mean she's allowed a flapjack, if she's made them [laughs].

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Transcript: Clip 5: Interview with Alex Zinga

Helen Robinson
Alex Zinga also gets direct payments for her care. She feels the scheme has given her much needed choices, and also works well for her carer, Kathryn Shipley.
Alex Zinga
I only really needed help in the middle of the day, to start with. But it got worse, and I eventually needed, obviously, to get got up and washed and dressed as well, and put away again in the evening. It’s like a rag doll, isn't it? To start with, as I say, it was Social Services … they were giving you less and less time. That's the way it is with Social Services. So it was decided to farm me out to private agencies. But you can never quite rely on them. It was really poor. The set-up was really bad, and they could never get there by eight o'clock in the morning, for some reason or other. It was always nine o'clock plus, which meant I was left at half past ten with my breakfast which, you know … half your day's gone.
So, eventually, it was suggested to me that I might like to take charge myself, and use the direct payment scheme, which had been set up pretty recently up here in Sheffield and, I think, in one or two other cities. And it's been absolutely brilliant, in comparison, because, you know, you're in the driving seat, you're in charge, you do the employing. You just feel empowered. It's much, much better in every way that I can think of.
I don't want a lot more care. I don't want to feel that there are carers always here, fiddling about and messing with me. So, you know, that's the easiest way to sort of go in. I go in to bed early, so that my tea can be left with me, and that's all done and dusted, if you see what I mean … rather than have somebody come round and give me my tea, and then go away again, and come back and put me to bed, you know. It just it feels too much ‘old lady’ for me.
I did try the usual routes of Job Centre, employment agencies etc. That doesn't work very well. I've only had one answer. I've tended to find that I get best responses from local post offices, shop windows, the newsagents down the road, this sort of thing, because I really want local help, you see. And I’ve found that much better. It's been more difficult, this last time. There have not been many takers. But I've at last got somebody again. And people tend to stay about a year or so – Kathryn’s two years - but it's usually about a year.
Kathryn Shipley
I'd quite like to have done it, because looking after my mum, after having a stroke … I mean … I looked after her for … I think it was a year. And I just thought that I'd like to be able to help somebody that, sort of, couldn't help their selves as much. And, as soon as I saw it, I rang the same day, you know … well, in fact, when I got home. And that was it. It was good.
Alex Zinga
There is a contract, yes. Yes, it's best to keep it legal, keep it on a contract. In the past, it was quite a simple contract. I've been given, again from the Wages Centre, a more complicated contract for people to fill out now, just to sort of safeguard against legal proceedings. I usually find …I'm quite intuitive myself. I usually find, if people are getting on with me … I ask all sort of daft questions like, “What's your star sign”. But I feel that's sort of important as well. And you get a feel about people. Sometimes it's jokey and friendly, and sometimes I'm a bossy boots, and I lay down the law, you know. It just depends … the mood I'm in.
I always warn people at interview that I'm a slave driver and, you know, they're expected to work when they're here. And I don't allow - Kathryn likes to smoke -I don't allow her to smoke in here, not that she would. She smokes outside on the step, all weathers.
Kathryn Shipley
It's good. I mean the relationship. I mean you all have your ups and downs, like, but, I mean, it's just like going to your friend’s. I mean, I can tell her things that I wouldn't even tell my own mother, you know. And it's a good relationship, I think.
Alex Zinga
Well, we just jolly along. And sometimes we talk, we tell each other rude jokes, or whatever, you know. We keep it light. There's nothing worse than somebody washing your backside, and being completely glum about it, as one lady was. And eventually, sort of, I had enough, and she had to leave. The young woman who took over for a short while and said, “I've got to be careful with my back. I need to tell you”. And I thought, “Mmm … it's just as well she doesn't want to stay in this job, because it's not going to work”. Because I'm a good nine and a half stones, and it's a matter of confidence, knowing exactly what you're doing - gripping with the knees, a quick swift upward push, twist and down - and you're not actually carrying the weight of the person at all. Though that is awkward, it is tricky at the bottom of the stairs with the stair lift.
Background noise of chair lift in operation
Alex Zinga
Right, the Eagle has landed.
Kathryn Shipley
One, two, three, four … and down.
Alex Zinga
Okey dokey.
Kathryn Shipley
It's physically hard work, and tiring, but not all the time. It's sometimes when I do a three shift day, which is like morning, lunch, and at night. That can be a bit tiring sometimes but, other than that, it's fine.
Short chat in background
Alex Zinga
I think I give quite a lot in return. Sometimes it's quite wearying, because I'm much more assertive than these ladies. I mean, I really am. And I find it quite hurtful that they sell themselves so low. They sell themselves cheaply. You know, they allow themselves to be trodden on, or so it seems to me. They're the drudge in the house. They put food on the table, and then they come out and work with me, and they're doing a similar sort of job, and it seems unfair.
End transcript: Clip 5: Interview with Alex Zinga
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