By Bryony Shannon
“To create change we need a guiding vision, and the vision we must aim for is good lives well lived. This bold vision – which creates a sense of purpose, sparks our energy and sets a shared direction of travel – returns us to the original intentions of the welfare state and reinvents them for our time.”
As we emerge from the ravages of the pandemic and learn to live with Covid-19, we have an opportunity to reflect on what’s important, on what works and what matters, to gather our learning and look ahead.
Nationally this is a critical time for the future of adult social care. So much, and yet so little, has changed since the Prime Minister announced in the summer of 2019 that he would “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.
In the recent Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) White Paper, the DHSC assured us it remains “committed to the sustainable improvement of adult social care and will bring forward proposals this year.” In the meantime, the narrative around adult social care from the government and much of the media continues to focus on “protecting our most vulnerable”, “caring for others”, reducing pressure on the NHS and preventing people from having to sell their homes to pay for care.
In local authorities, we’re well aware that Covid-19 and the measures introduced to control the spread of the virus have had a disproportionate and devastating impact on the lives of people who draw on – and work in – adult social care.
However, the pandemic has also demonstrated the power of thinking local, the importance of connection, and just how much individuals and communities can and do care about and support each other. It’s helped us focus on what matters, build relationships with people and organisations within our localities, appreciate the abundant resources available in our neighbourhoods, and cut through some of the endless red tape. It’s brought about a strong sense of collaboration and a recognition of – and associated sense of pride in – what we can achieve when we work together. These are all important foundations to build on going forwards.
There are many dedicated, innovative people working in councils who are desperate to escape the social care sorting office, with its associated tick boxes and labels and processes, and work alongside local people and organisations to build something that works better for everyone. We know we need to change. To move forwards. To build back better. And organisations including the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADASS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) have also acknowledged this need for, and opportunity to create, a very different social care future.
“We face many challenges as a result of Covid-19, but we are also presented with a huge opportunity to rethink, redesign and reorientate care. Rather than simply reinforcing and protecting what we have, we have an opportunity to do something fundamentally different. We have the chance to reimagine the care that we all want for ourselves and our families. Care and support that meets our needs and wants. To design care that is fit for the future we want.”
As Hilary Cottam writes, to create change we need a guiding vision, and the vision we must aim for is good lives well lived. The #socialcarefuture vision is just that – a succinct, values-based articulation of the fundamentals of a good life: a place to call home; love and a sense of belonging; things to do; hope.
I believe we can use the #socialcarefuture vision and associated narrative in local authorities in many ways.
Within our portfolios or directorates, adopting the vision “creates a sense of purpose, sparks our energy and sets a shared direction of travel”. It provides a framework for our practice and serves as a commitment to a cultural shift away from the deficit-based, care management approach towards a strengths-based way of working alongside the individuals and communities we serve. From assessments for services to keep ‘service users’ alive, to conversations with people about the life they choose to lead. From ‘placing’ people in ‘settings’ to supporting people to remain in, find or return to the place they call home. From focusing on needs and risk and abuse, to focusing on capabilities and possibility and love. From transactions and institutions to relationships and communities. From assuming and doing to, to listening and working with.
The #socialcarefuture vision serves as a prompt for our conversations. Do we talk with people about what home looks and feels like to them? Do we ask who and what they love, the relationships and connections they want to experience, build or maintain? Do we understand the communities they are – or could be – part of, the contribution they do or could make? Do we discuss what they want to start or keep doing? Do we understand – and act on – what matters to them to live their lives in the way they want to?
The full #socialcarefuture narrative presents a challenge for us to think differently about the support we organise and fund. To shift our focus from providing services to ‘look after our most vulnerable’, to working alongside local people and communities to learn about and invest in what works, and to draw together a web of informal and formal support and relationships around what matters to people. To stop viewing social care as a destination or end in itself, and starting thinking about social care as a vehicle to enable all of us to live the lives we choose to lead.
Above all, adopting the vision articulates our values to the people we serve, and to the staff we want to recruit and retain. And it asserts our identity to our partners – distancing us from the paternalistic, medical model of ‘CARE’ and reasserting the vital, social dimension of genuinely social care. Of wellbeing and interdependence. Of choice and control. Of security and belonging. Of human rights and social justice.
I passionately believe that the language we use to communicate with and about people who draw on social care matters, and I’ve always thought the way we talk about social care matters too. Now the #socialcarefuture public audience research provides the evidence to demonstrate just how much difference the words we choose can make, and the guide for communicating about social care offers us a new narrative to help transform social care.
To create change we need a guiding vision. Let’s adopt this one, for all our futures.
 Radical Help, Hilary Cottam, 2018
 Adult social care recruitment care campaign launched to boost workforce, Department of Health and Social Care, 23 April 2020