Acclaimed director Ken Loach has never shied away from the uncomfortable truths that face millions of Britons on a daily basis. His previous award-winning efforts with ‘I, Daniel Blake’ painted a stark picture of the welfare system in England, with a striking scene in a food bank being one of the most prominent illustrations. Now, in what could be Loach’s final directorial outing, attention turns to a fictional family in the North East struggling financially, and homecare features heavily.
The Turner family have been hit hard since the 2008 financial crash. Instead of the Northern Rock mortgage the family of four were promised, they now move and rent small flat after small flat while father Ricky has failed to replace his once steady builder’s income. Offered the chance of potentially becoming financially independent by investing in a delivery van, the Turners take the biggest gamble of their lives in a desperate bid to become financially stable. They duly invest, but can only do so by selling mother and homecare worker Abbie’s car – the same vehicle she uses to travel between her clients.
It is rare for homecare to receive such big screen prominence but it certainly does here. The homecare plot thread is a key part of the overarching narrative. It is clear the researchers have been thorough and the film highlights the dedication homecare workers have for the older and disabled people they support. Abbie’s appointments include one that overruns due to complex personal care, and going above the call of duty to help an isolated older person late at night with care needs.
Actor Debbie Honeywood’s portrayal of homecare worker Abbie is powerful. She trained volunteered and shadowed as a homecare worker in preparation for this role. She treads a highly skilful line to get the right balance of empathy (encouraging one scared dementia patient to come out from a cupboard) and assertiveness (normally in having to leave to get to her next visit via public transport) throughout her working day. The fact this never strays into cliché is an achievement in itself. Perhaps more astonishing, is the revelation that this is Honeywood’s very first film role.
The film, of course, raises issues that will be familiar to providers and care workers alike. While analysing what is a work of fiction in social care terms can be difficult, care workers’ travel time, overrunning calls, lack of staff cover and unsocial hours are all topics UKHCA has raised with Government and we provide guidance to employers.
With the family car sold, Abbie is forced to go from visit to visit via public transport and admits to a client at having to pay her own bus fare. It isn’t clear whether the homecare employer makes up for the added expenditure of travel time in her wages, but UKHCA’s Minimum Price for Homecare recommends that it most certainly should be in order to avoid underpayment of the National Minimum Wage. The homecare provider should also be aware of the recent updates to the way payslips are structured.
When one visit over-runs to 90 minutes due to complex personal care issues, Abbie is left exasperated with her manager, via mobile at a bus stop, trying to get to her next visit. The homecare provider would be expected to immediately review the care plans in place for both service users in this situation, to see if more time and support is needed.
Lack of cover
The added complication in this story, was the lack of cover available to assist Abbie when she was already clearly stretched. Abbie can’t stay behind when a client with dementia asks to comb her hair for example, and a rare two-hour break in a packed schedule on one day is highly appreciated. With Abbie’s employer clearly struggling to recruit enough careworkers, the Department of Health and Social Care’s latest adult social care recruitment campaign “Every day is different when you care” is designed to plug this gap in the workforce.
Abbie’s shifts also cause much strain on the Turner household. “Whatever happened to the eight hour day?” exclaims one of Abbie’s clients when she hears of the regular 7.30am starts and 9pm finishes. On one occasion Abbie in fact travels to a client out of hours (driven by her husband with the whole family) interrupting a rare family evening in, just to check on an isolated client in need of personal care. “I won’t be able to sleep at night if I don’t see her.” Although it is not clear on how many shifts in row Abbie conducted under the above circumstances, her employer will need to ensure compliance with the Working Time Regulations. The Regulations state workers must have:
- 11 hours uninterrupted rest per day (“daily rest period”);
- 24 hours uninterrupted rest per week or 48 hours uninterrupted rest per fortnight (“weekly rest period”); and
- Rest breaks at work- rest break of 20 minutes when working more than 6 hours per day.
The care for Abbie’s clients shines throughout her range of visits, with touching moments shown throughout. Abbie does indeed get her hair combed on a return visit, and reminisces about old family photos on another. Tender moments to be cherished in amongst the difficulties Abbie faces in her own career as well as her family as a whole.
Although the fictional homecare agency which Abbie works for doesn’t necessarily come across as the most supportive, the number of homecare providers which are improving in real life is increasing in England according to the latest State of Care report from the Care Quality Commission. In addition, resources on our site are on hand to help provider members if they are affected by any of the issues that Sorry We Missed You raises.
It may be only one plot thread in the wider arc of the film. Loach successfully portrays homecare as worthwhile vocation, while also demonstrating the potential issues that face the sector in a worst case scenario. Honeywood’s heart-warming performance when in a homecare setting is one in which thousands of care workers around the UK will almost certainly be able to relate to.
Sorry we Missed You is currently in cinemas and will be available on DVD and Blu Ray in early 2020.
 Payslip policy: a guide to the 2019 legislation, HM Government, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/payslip-policy-a-guide-to-the-2019-legislation?dm_i=1DVI,618PG,7HD0WR,NNY1S,1
 Working Time Regulations, Anthony Collins Solicitors, https://newsroom.anthonycollins.com/newsroom/ebriefings/working-time-regulations-are-you-really-compliant-with-your-rest-periods-and-rest-break-obligations/
 State of Care, Care Quality Commission, https://www.cqc.org.uk/publications/major-report/state-care