All in a day’s caring: Judi Waymouth loves the difference she makes to clients’ lives
If you had told Judi Waymouth 20 years ago that she would be spending her 70s and 80s as a professional carer, she would have laughed. The elegant former model, antiques dealer and estate agent imagined her retirement would be a time of leisure, perhaps spending a day or two a week working in a pretty boutique.
But here she is on her third care visit of the day, impeccably dressed in a grey leather skirt and with perfectly manicured coral nails, pouring a glass of Pimm’s for her 92-year-old client Dodie.
Judi wouldn’t have it any other way. Now 79, she joined the caring profession eight years ago and has not looked back. Later on in her visit, she rustles up some dinner for Dodie, then she helps her into a fresh nightie and tucks her up in bed.
Dodie is delighted. ‘Judi is like a breath of fresh air,’ she beams. ‘She looks after me so well and I love to hear about all the things she’s been up to,’ she says with a twinkle in her eye.
What is equally apparent is how much Judi is enjoying herself. ‘There is nothing like going home in the evening knowing you have left someone happy, safe, clean and fed,’ she says. ‘My son sometimes asks when I plan to retire. I say, I’ll give it up when I have woken up two mornings in a row and thought, ‘Oh no, I have to go to work.’ It hasn’t happened yet.’
Judi works part-time visiting clients like Dodie who live near her home in Budleigh Salterton, East Devon. At first, Judi’s friends were surprised; now, some are signing up to be carers themselves.
Recruitment in the country’s social care sector is in crisis. There are 165,000 vacancies and more than one in ten posts is unfilled and this could increase without new funding and policy-making. The need for care services is also growing as the population ages.
Stepping into the breach is a small but rising number of older care professionals like Judi. Many have had long, successful careers in something completely different. They are now bringing their life experiences, companionship and kindness to support elderly people who need it.
Four Seasons Health Care, a care home provider, says it has seen a big increase in over-70s applying for roles in the past two years. They now comprise one per cent of its national workforce.
Martin Jones, chief executive of care agency Home Instead UK, says: ‘Some of our carers are older than clients. We have one aged 83 who cares for someone aged 69.’
Mark and Vanessa McGlade, who run Home Instead Exeter & East Devon, employ several care professionals above state retirement age, including Judi. Mark says: ‘A lot of older clients are lonely and look forward to a visit from a care professional. It gives them a reason to get up in the morning. But if you speak to many of our older care professionals, they say much the same thing.
‘They have a vocation that allows them to make a difference – and they feel a sense of purpose every day when they wake up.’
Care professionals of all ages bring something special to their visits. Vanessa says younger carers are more likely to be excited about technology and will help clients make video calls to family members or use their smartphones and iPads.
Older carers bring a special type of kinship. Vanessa says: ‘Given they are of a similar generation, they know, for example, how to cook food their clients will like.’ As the cost of living soars, more older people are having to work into their late 60s – or return to work – to get by. More than half of over-55s plan to work beyond state pension age because their pensions will be insufficient to live on, a survey by Canada Life has found. Nearly a fifth say they have not financially prepared for retirement.
Earlier this year, the Government announced £22million in funding to support over-55s return to the workforce. While some older workers are able to continue in – or resume – their existing profession, others look for alternatives. For some, caring is a rewarding option.
Some older workers are opting to become carers even when they have no financial need.
Joe Grimes, 71, from Middlesbrough, retired six years ago from a long career in construction. He says: ‘Within three months I was bored. Someone suggested becoming a carer and I didn’t think it was for me, but I decided to give it a go.’
He hasn’t looked back since. Joe says: ‘I’m no spring chicken, but I like to help people more vulnerable than myself. I wish I had known about caring as a career earlier.’ When I speak with Joe, he is with client Neville, 87, who has just polished off a delicious breakfast Joe has made for him. ‘It’s like having my own butler,’ says Neville, delightedly.
Caring is not just about making cups of tea and having nice chats. Care professionals help clients with personal care, including washing and using the toilet.
Breath of fresh air: Judi shares a joke with one of her clients, 92-year-old Dodie
Joe and Judi say it’s a natural part of caring, but not everyone will feel comfortable performing such tasks. Joe and Judi also work for an agency – Home Instead UK – that does not arrange visits under an hour long. That allows them to get to know clients and offer companionship. Yet the average care visit in the UK lasts just 18 minutes, so many care professionals are not able to forge such close bonds.
The difference in caring experiences is something Vivienne Dean, 71, from Sidmouth in Devon, knows all too well. She was a nurse before moving into caring in her mid-60s.
She says: ‘Now I visit clients in their homes, I have time to get to know them and form friendships rather than being rushed on the ward as I sometimes was.’
Vivienne values the flexibility that caring allows her. ‘For the first time in my life, my work fits around my family and not the other way around,’ she says.
The UK is facing a loneliness epidemic with older people particularly vulnerable to social isolation. As many as 1.4million older people are often lonely, according to charity Age UK.
Jane Lancett, 72, from Hereford, became a care professional five years ago and loves the company she brings to clients. She says: ‘I’ve learnt that there are a lot of desperately lonely people in this country.
‘Clients are so happy when you spend a bit of time catching up with them. What I’ve realised is that if I wasn’t doing this, I would have ended up a lonely person myself. I need people and in this job that’s what I get. I’m doing five visits today.’
Back at Dodie’s, Judi is keen to recommend a career in caring to older workers, but is not surprised more have not tried it.
She says: ‘ I walked past the office of the care agency two times before finding the confidence to go in and ask about a job. I didn’t know if it would employ someone in their 70s and I didn’t know if it would suit me.’
The depictions of professional carers on TV does not help, she adds. ‘They are always of people who are younger, look harried and exhausted – and usually dressed in ill-fitting uniforms. We need to change that.’
How working past retirement age can pay
1) Make sure you don’t pay more tax than you need to
Your tax band is determined by your total income – and that includes payments from any pensions you are receiving as well as from wages. If there is a risk that you may be pushed into a higher tax band, you could consider delaying taking your pension until you are earning less.
2) You could delay taking your state pension
If you are earning enough to live on, you could delay your state pension. Then, when you come to claim it you will receive a more generous monthly sum.
3) Work as long as you like and need to
You can usually work as long as you want to. A forced retirement at the age of 65 no longer exists. You can ask your employer if you can work more flexibly or part-time – it has the right to reject your request.
4) You won’t pay National Insurance
In most cases, you do not pay National Insurance after you reach state pension age. You only pay income tax if your taxable income is more than your tax-free allowances.
5) Watch out if paying into and taking out of a pension
Once you have started taking an income from your pension, you may find that the amount you can contribute and receive tax relief on contributions comes down – from £40,000 a year to just £4,000.