THESE are some of the good people who take on the challenging job of caring for the elderly and infirm in Southampton.

They make sure our parents and grandparents who are cared for in residential homes across the city, are treated with respect and tenderness.

They see to their very basic needs - keeping incontinent residents clean, helping them to dress, ensuring they eat well, helping them make sense of their world.

They do so much more as well - they are counsellors, confidants and for many elderly people, they are their new friends.

Their worlds have been rocked by the cutting of payments for working anti-social hours.

In the worst cases a few will lose up to £7,000 but there are many who are losing between £3,000 to £5,000 a year - and they are very angry at their loss.

Together carers Tina Whitcher, Christine Eade and Billy Pickett as well as housekeeper Barbara Read have more than 50 years experience of working in care homes.

They work at Birch Lawn residential home in Sullivan Road, Sholing Christine, 44, has been working as a carer for 23 years.

"Like many others in this profession I have worked weekends, days and nights and many bank holidays.

"In the past many of us, like myself, have used our own time organising fetes and barbecues, outings and sports days and we have entertained at Christmas parties to raise money for the home.

"The elderly enjoy helping and watching - and we had a great team spirit with everyone joining in," she said.

But with the axing of payments for anti-social hours, hundreds of staff are losing thousands of pounds from their pay packets and the carers report they have been left dispirited and angry.

"I will lose £3,891. The team spirit has gone and morale has hit rock bottom.

"I feel very undervalued. I feel I work hard for my money - how can the council justify cutting my pay?" she said.

Fellow care worker Tina, 49, said she was angry at how she had been treated.

"Why is it that after 16 years of working nights for Southampton city council they don't seem to care that I am taking a cut in wages of £5,551 a year.

"It seems to me that Southampton city council needs to research the word care as I feel they could not care less," she said.

Her sister Debbie is a single mum with two children. She works weekends as a carer so she can look after her family and take her 14-year-old daughter to school.

"My wages are going down by £5,000 from £14,000 to £9,000 - it's going to make life very difficult," she said.

Billy Pickett has worked in care homes for many years - including in the private sector.

"I can tell you that the girls I work with really care. I left the private sector because I couldn't cope with the things that went on.

"These girls do a great job and they shouldn't be treated this way," he said.

Housekeeper Barbara, 55, will lose just over £3,000 but she believes there were other ways of making savings.

"They could have looked at holidays or sick pay and that would have been fairer.

"This is having an awful effect - and the residents and their families really feel for us," she said.

Other carers who did not want to be photographed or to give their full names for fear of repercussions, also had a story to tell.

Lisa, 43, said she worked part-time and the loss of £4,200 a year will mean her wages will effectively be halved.

"They are cutting our pay and at the same time increasing our workload as we take on more residents with dementia," she said.

Debbie, 46, explained she would lose £6,100 under the changes and that too represented half her wages.

"I have got to find something to make up that money. It's just disgusting how we have been treated," she said.

She said her colleague had worked as a carer for 26 years and she now faced having to get a second job to make up for the £3,000 she has lost.

"She is a single parent with two dependent children and she's finding it very difficult to manage," she said.

Care workers are due to strike again from March 9 to 12 to show how unhappy they are with the pay cuts.

A statement from Southampton city council said: "We have received official notification of care workers' intention to take industrial action from Friday, March 9 until Monday, March 12.

Discussions are understood to be taking place between union representatives and management today.