By Professor Catherine Needham
I don’t particularly like noise or conflict. At the various academic meetings and events with policy makers that fill my weeks there isn’t much of either. Both of these were in evidence at the #socialcarefuture event in Manchester last week, and at the end I felt invigorated.
I didn’t think I liked the music from the Greatest Showman that my daughter inflicts on us, but watching MIXIT (@MiXiT_MUSIC) perform This is Me was an emotional and energising way to start the day. The woman next to me got her tissues out, and we chatted about that, and the community pub she co-runs that’s creating an accessible space for people on an estate in Brighton – The Bevy.
Next was a session on the Care Act. I’ve sat in a lot of events about the Care Act in which we’ve talked about the rhetoric/reality gap and the policy initiatives that are seeking to bridge the gap. This session was different. It was loud and angry. People talked about their lives getting worse not better, and about the way this was reducing the trust they had in what professionals were telling them.
Angry muttering accompanied the alphabet soup of acronyms on the slides (which we all use until we get reminded how exclusionary they are). The muttering stopped though when Rachel, one of the presenters started telling us how she was using a direct payment to support her son, avoiding an eye-wateringly expensive out of area placement and getting better outcomes. She’d had a supportive social worker and an approval panel that focused in on the message that what she was proposing offered the likelihood of better outcomes at half the price. She got lucky in a system that struggles to facilitate these sorts of arrangements apart from for a few people at the margins. The presenters then talked more about such examples and how they could be enabled if more places took and used these approaches.
I’ve been doing research with local government commissioners, highlighting the very difficult context in which they are trying to implement the Care Act. So it was great to get a positive message of change from Tara Flood and Kevin Caulfield from Hammersmith and Fulham. Disabled People there had led a campaign to improve the rights and support for disabled residents in the borough. At times noisy and conflictual in their tactics, the result was a local Disabled People’s Commission that led to Tara and Kevin being appointed to a strategic role within the borough. The borough has adopted the recommendations of the commission, including around the lifting of home care charges for disabled people.
Individual positive examples aren’t the same as the systemic change that we need in social care, but they do provide the hope and sense of possibility that things can be different. And they offer a reminder that change comes in part from noise and resistance, however much that makes us feel uncomfortable. My tweet after the gathering reflected my thoughts “Been to lots of events this week but #socialcarefuture was the only one where I felt more upbeat at the end than I did at the start”