Today (15 April 2021) we hosted a webinar to share the work we’ve been doing, the plans we’d like to put into place and the different ways people and organisations can support and get involved with #socialcare future.

You can watch the webinar here. Please get in touch socialcarefuture@gmail.com if you’d like to talk

Please join us and take part in our Spring gathering which will be held on 27th May from 9.45am until 4.45pm, via Zoom.

The online Spring Gathering combines:

  • Sharing great ideas and innovative practices that can help build towards the future vision.
  • Updates on what our movement has been doing and opportunities to get involved in taking them forward
  • Key debates about how to create the future we want, on issues identified by the Whose Social Care Future is it Anyway? inquiry group.

You can find out more information, glimpse some of the sessions and debates and book a place HERE

Or you can also book a place directly using this linkTowards a Brighter Future – On-Line Spring Gathering Tickets, Thu 27 May 2021 at 9:45 | Eventbrite

Everyone is welcome to our gathering, regardless of ability to pay, but if you can make a contribution, as an individual or organisation, it helps us cover our costs and do more stuff.

By Neil Crowther

#socialcarefuture has very deliberately focused on proposition, rather than protest.  Our vision is of the future we want to be part of creating, not of the world we want to leave behind.  But it is born of anger and frustration at the fact that this most ordinary and humble of aspirations – that people have the freedom and support to lead a life like everyone else – is regarded as extraordinary and continues to elude us.  This gap represents the grave injustice being done to our families, friends and fellow citizens.  In a recent article, Professor Tania Burchardt shared findings from research by Ipsos-MORI on unmet needs in social care, in which one respondent said “You don’t [cope], you exist. You just exist. It’s an existence. I’ll tell you what I think, I consider this house a coffin with a door.” That this gap is rarely expressed reflects the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that characterises prejudice towards older and disabled people, and in turn towards the public services which, if better designed and supported, people could draw on to live their lives on an equal basis with others. 

That in turn is why a positive vision, rooted in shared values, has to be our starting point. As the late Sir Bert Massie put it when Chair of the Disability Rights Commission ‘only high expectations will shine a light on injustice.’  Naming the harms caused by injustice is one thing.  Stirring the ambition in people to rectify it is what really matters.

Under-funded and under-imagined

It’s also why the whole language of ‘fixing social care’ is so hopeless.  It is rooted in and feeds these same low expectations.  Rather than bringing to mind Elon Musk’s ambition to seed human civilisation on other planets, it tees up an image of people desperately trying to shovel seawater out of a sinking, creaky old boat. There is no ambition save to stop things getting worse. This is hardly an appealing idea for the public or for the Treasury. 

Social care is not only under-funded, it is under-imagined.  That’s why we need to ditch the language of ‘fixing’, which so limits this debate, and embrace the language of creating and innovating our way towards a future where everyone can live well. 

The brownie, not the ingredients

What might that look and feel like beyond our headline vision?  I’m told Ministers and officials are interested in three particular areas: funding, workforce and technology, so I’m going to focus on these.  But first of all, I think we have to stop talking about ‘social care’ as our starting point.  As the American pollster Frank Luntz advises in his book ‘Words that Work’:

‘Several years ago I asked Americans whether they would be prepared to pay extra taxes for ‘further law enforcement’ and 51% agreed.  But when I asked then if they would pay higher taxes ‘to halt the rising crime rate’ 68% answered in the affirmative. The difference? Law enforcement is the process and therefore less popular while reducing crime is the desirably result.  The language lesson: focus on results, not process’

Or as Anat Shenker-Osorio always advises – people buy the brownie, not the ingredients.

Our starting point when making the case for investment and reform should not be ‘social care’ it should be people living their lives well.   As well as bringing the desired result to the front of the framing, and permitting us to talk about well-designed social care as the solution rather than the problem, this shift also creates the space to put across a range of different propositions.  For example, many of us feel uneasy about the received wisdom of integrating social care and the NHS, but this is largely because social care is so often positioned and treated only as a pressure valve for the NHS, with the terrible consequences we saw during the pandemic.  By making people living well the starting point, we can bring into view the role of care and support in attending to the social determinants of preventable ill-health. That way we might see integration not of social care into the NHS, but integration of thinking and investment in the things that keeps us well and away from acute services wherever possible, including the support to stay connected and do the things that matters to us, having enough resources to live decent lives in great places to live them.

From ‘funding’ social care to investing in good lives

Clearly government needs to begin increasing investment in wellbeing, starting now and incrementally increasing this investment over the coming years.   But we should encourage it to adopt the broader conception of ‘resources’ that Hilary Cottam points to in her book ‘Radical Help’ and ask ‘how can we invest public money to unlock other resources and power to make change happen?’  There are so many exciting examples of this already happening, from organisations that prospect for and fuse together existing local resources, relationships and opportunities such as Local Area Coordinators, Community Circles and Community Catalysts, to people pooling resources and power such as Equal Care Coop in Halifax and the North West Care Coop.  There are those helping to forge mutually nourishing connections across people and generations like Cares Family and Good Gym, while organisations led by disabled people such as Spectrum or Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living (to name but two) support people to draw on personal budgets to exercise control over their lives, building on their gifts, relationships and other assets, in order to engage meaningfully in the life of their communities.  In the more regulated space, initiatives such as Shared Lives, Wellbeing Teams and Buurtzog put meaning, purpose and relationships centre stage.   Meanwhile HousingLIN continues to push the boundaries of innovation, looking beyond residential care towards new, sustainable, models of housing and support.  Put together, these approaches allow us to talk not about ‘spending’ on social care as pouring more and more water into a leaking bucket, but rather to bring to mind a metaphor of seeding and then nurturing ecosystems of formal and informal support that we can draw on to live the lives we have reason to value and which sustain our wellbeing.

From a ‘workforce plan’ to a ‘new deal for wellbeing’

If this is how we imagine wellbeing being supported, then what does that mean for ‘the workforce’ of the future?  Well first of all I’m reminded of Charles Leadbetter’s two futures for personalisation, when he wrote:

‘Personalisation could be a sustaining innovation designed to make existing systems more personalised or it could be a disruptive innovation designed to put the users in the driving seat as designers and paymasters of services. It could be a programme to apply a lick of new paint to fading public services or it could be the harbinger of entirely new organisational logic.’

I make no secret of the fact that I would like it to be the latter, but believe to date it has more often amounted to the former.  But I don’t think that is reason not to keep trying, and as I will set out below, I think digital transformation could provide the missing piece of the jigsaw.

If we adopt Leadbetter’s more radical view, it begs the question ‘who are the workforce’?  Isn’t a barrier to going down the second path maintaining the idea that there are always ‘care workers’ and ‘people receiving care’.  The latter need to be recognised as part of ‘production’ (or ‘co-production’) and have to be thought about as such, whether a person using a direct payment and becoming an employer, or someone re-purposing technologies to meet their own needs, or otherwise innovating in novel ways.  They are not ‘being provided with a service’ or even accessing one, rather they are co-creating and commissioning their own support.  While we have made some inroads, where I think we have wrong-stepped in the past is to see this in too individualised and commodified a way.  The innovative models I outline above in the section on resourcing amount to the infrastructure that will allow more and more people to assume more responsibility for and control over their own support and their own lives.  This is because our ability to form and sustain our identity and to be the author of our own lives is not in despite of the connections and relationships we enjoy, but contingent on the extent and strength of them. 

Hence this shift to Leadbetter’s more radical proposition amounts, like with the idea of a ‘green new deal’, to lots of opportunities for creating new exciting jobs in a field fired by social innovation.  Rather than some narrow conception of the ‘care-worker’, we might also be thinking about a wellbeing team coach, a circles facilitator, a community organiser, a resources prospector and negotiator, a smart home designer and engineer or a technology tailor.   And yes, a social prescribing ‘link worker.’   But when we hear about a ‘workforce plan for social care’ is this what anyone has in mind at the moment?  And if not, is that again because our ability to imagine the future is being coloured by low expectations and suffering a lack of imagination?

From ‘automating care’ to digital transformation

Though taking steps into digitalisation, social care providers have proved to be somewhat immune to the digital transformation that is radically reshaping the wider world.  Some might conclude this is positive, fearing as many do, that technology could strip care of its essential human qualities. But I don’t believe the answer is to resist technology. In the words of Nelson Mandela that is like knowing winter is coming but refusing to wear a sweater.  Rather, we need to shape it, and make sure the future is one where technology is our servant, and we not its.  If that risk sounds a bit dystopian, it’s worth recognising that the technology used by Deliveroo or Amazon to drive up productivity is already being used to track and monitor the performance of homecare workers, leading to rushed ‘care visits’ by low paid staff on zero hours contracts and no pay between them.  This is technology driving down the quality of care and support, making delivering care no different to delivering a parcel or a takeaway meal, which in turn erodes the dignity of working in the field too.

However, in thinking about the chief risks of technology where social care is concerned, I sometimes think we focus on the wrong things and miss opportunities in the process.  It’s often said that everyone expects more jobs to become automated but never their own, and in social care, people like to say that ‘the human touch’ will always trump technology. Certainly some technologies, especially robotics, are a long way off being able to supplant human support with things like eating, getting washed, taking medication and so on.  But my bet is that, were such technology available and people able to bend it to their own will and preferences, many might actually prefer it over feeling reliant on other human beings, given the issues of power, status and dignity involved.  I recall interviewing a woman in her early 70s – admittedly a tech enthusiast – who told me ‘when I need care, I want a smart home, a care robot and a self-driving care to take me to see my friends.’   If technology develops in a way that provides people with both objective and subjective autonomy, a stronger sense of dignity and perhaps most of all, more convenience, then it will – as it continues to do across different areas of our lives – take the place of human workers.  I think we need only be fearful of this if we regard as acceptable the idea of paid care staff being people’s primary source of human company.  If we don’t – and we really shouldn’t in my view – then technology can help free resources up to invest in the relationship-centred innovations I mention above, as well as (but not instead of) helping us to stay us in contact with one another, as we have all increasingly experienced over the past year.  

So much potential is coming down the line. How will the internet of things revolutionise smart home technology? How will remote health monitoring and telemedicine allow us to stay living in the place we call home? How will brain-computer interfaces enable people with spinal cord injury to control more of the world around them?  How will self-driving vehicles help us to stay connected?  How are these questions guiding our thinking about the future?

For me though, the real prize is to harness the role that technology could play, and yet which it isn’t presently, to help realise Leadbetter’s more radical vision of personalisation.   My generations digital footprint, and that of generations coming up behind me, is already so vast that it is feasible that it holds more clues to my will and preferences than anyone I know could express, or possibly that I could even understand or articulate myself.  Imagine if we conceived of our digital footprint as a something to draw on in asserting our identity, will and preferences – as a central plank of supported decision making, especially should we reach a stage where we struggle to articulate this ourselves, or have no one else around available, able or willing to do so? Of course, there are ethical questions involved, but that is no reason not to consider them.   Or imagine if platforms with the personalising algorithms of Facebook or Amazon were turned to supporting us to think about the lives we want to lead and how we might overcome barriers, design solutions and secure products and services?  How about a ‘Pinterest’ for wellbeing, which, rather than full of ‘hacks’ for Ikea furniture was full of people sharing hacks for independent living?  What if technology could overcome the things that put so many off direct payments, smoothing out the administration, handling the money, while optimising the choice and control?  And imagine if all that could – as The Tribe Project is striving to by using machine learning – help shape a ‘wellbeing market’ genuinely informed by the hopes and imagination of people drawing on support and absent the dead hand of commissioners. 

Reaching for the stars, not fixing a sinking ship

So there you have it, a vision not for funding, workforce and automation, but by starting with #socialcarefuture’s vision, for good lives, for investment to unlock resources, for social innovation and for technology centred on human wellbeing.  Yes, the State needs to command the finances needed, but rather than it directly providing or commissioning services, it invests in – as Leadbetter put it – ‘a platform or an environment in which people take decisions about their lives in a different way.’ It should be a the chief investor in a shared long term framework to transform the way we organise the support that people can draw on to lead the lives they wish to lead.

If we care about the injustices of today, then let’s make our #socialcarefuture about a decade of investing in and unleashing creativity and innovation, not ‘fixing social care’.  Let’s make it about reaching for the stars, not fixing a sinking ship.

by Annie Gunner Logan, Chief Executive, Coalition of Care & Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS)

Pic from David Martin,Fotopress Dundee OSCR-ANNIE GUNNER

Scotland stands at a crossroads.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m about embark on a discussion of the constitutional question which has dominated Scottish politics for more than a decade. And it’s certainly true that the upcoming election here as is critical as any since 1999.  

But that’s not my subject here. I’m talking about the opportunity we have to change the future of social care in Scotland.

That opportunity has arrived not a moment too soon. The phrase ‘social care commissioning is broken’ has become a cliché, but it’s no less true for that. Money – or the lack of it – has played its part. But the fracturing has been much deeper. As the architecture of adult social care has become ever more complex – we have lost sight of what it is actually for.

And that brokenness has had real human consequences for those who work on the frontline of social care, and most profoundly for the people they support. The pandemic has only served to expose this and make the case for change more urgent. It has also raised the stakes. We can no more tinker at the edges than we can wait.

None of this is unique to Scotland, of course. Social care is one of the wicked problems of our age. But what is particular to Scotland is that we have been presented with a chance to fix it. That chance has come in the shape of the report of the Independent Review of Adult Social Care in Scotland – a review commissioned on the back of, but still in the grip of, the pandemic.

There were plenty who doubted that it would be possible to produce to something meaningful in so short a space of time – hands up, I was among them. But when it arrived, the report of the review team led by Derek Feeley did not disappoint. It runs to 109 pages, has 53 recommendations, and is built on three core propositions – shifting the paradigm, strengthening the foundations, and redesigning the system.

Of course, it’s not perfect. There are gaps to be filled, dots to be joined up and expectations to be managed. Several things are especially worth underlining. Social care is not an island and it cannot change lives on its own. The structural disadvantage faced by many people who rely on support requires whole system change.

The vision of social care captured by the review is a huge step forward, but more work is needed on its relationship with housing support and criminal justice. More thought too needs to be given to its digital and data dimensions. And how the changes proposed will work in tandem with work already underway on redesigning the care system for children and young people – the implementation of The Promise – requires careful thought.

But notwithstanding all that, the sheer scale of engagement upon which the Review’s findings are predicated is impressive – 228 submissions, 13 events, 128 meetings – in just three months. Its most significant achievement by far is its transformation of Scotland’s social care narrative. It really does feel as though we have turned a corner. That narrative – for all its rich, mission driven history in the third sector – had fallen on stony ground in recent years.

The Review has reminded us – in crystal clear terms – why social care matters and what it should, and could, look like. ‘Strong and effective social care support is foundational to the flourishing of everyone in Scotland’ – not merely a place where services are provided but a vehicle for independent living, delivered through collaboration not competition.

There are very strong resonances here with the work led by Social Care Futures – which the Review Chair and his team, I have no doubt, studied carefully.

This is no small matter. In the increasingly corrosive world of commissioning, reminding folk of social care’s purpose has too often felt like pushing a rock up a hill. Now we find ourselves at the summit – and the view looks better than even we might have hoped for. We can turn our attention at last to the how rather than the what.

On that score too, the Review has also been true to its brief in setting out the basis of a new architecture to support social care, the National Care Service. It has started – but not finished – describing what such a service could look like. At CCPS (Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland) we have given that vision a broad thumbs-up. Not because it is flawless – but because we think that with application and initiative it can succeed.

Others – notably some political parties and COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) – have been more sceptical. At CCPS we had some misgivings about the task given to the Review team and not least to the term, ‘National Care Service’. Taken together and separately, those words did not capture our vision. We were particularly suspicious of one version which featured significantly in the discourse, a ‘nationalised’ care service – state run, state delivered – the National Health Service Mark II.

From our perspective this was not the solution – but not because it would undermine the fabric and fortunes of third sector organisations. We do not want this to be a turf war based on institutional self-interest. If there was a better way of delivering for our beneficiaries than furthering our existence, we would have a responsibility to say so – to call ourselves out.

Our objection to nationalisation is based on what we know from decades of providing social care support. All our experience tells us that a purely state-run system doesn’t lend itself to providing the kind of support that people actually want in a way that suits their needs. It’s very positive that the model recommended by the Review team avoids that pitfall, but we also accept there remain significant challenges to be explored and resolved. And, as the report acknowledges, when that’s done, we will still need to find a way to pay for it all.

In short, the Review advocates a National Care Service, established in statute, on an equal footing with the National Health Service. If enacted, accountability would shift from local government to Scottish Ministers via a Chief Executive and multi-partner board. It would oversee local commissioning and procurement of social care and support by reformed Integration Joint Boards (responsible for the integration of adult health and social care services in Scotland), with services provided by local authorities and third & independent sector providers. 

It is not hard to see why local authorities in particular, are unnerved. Implementing the Review’s recommendations will mean change – a significant shift in agency and power. For third sector providers on the other hand, the recommendations offer the opportunity for a long overdue levelling up and the prospect, finally, of an end to an inequitable two-tier workforce.

But framing this opportunity as a threat to local democracy misses the point and poses the wrong question. The most important factor in redesigning the system must be about how the delivery of social care support can also be made accountable to those who receive it. This is about how the principles of Self-Directed Support – enshrined in legislation since 2013 – and the Christie Commission – published in 2011 – can finally be put into practice.

From where CCPS sits, a national service with local decision making is possible. And we have already published some Big Ideas about commissioning and procurement which can make it work, setting out for key tests for change – Does it shift power? Does it increase choice and control? Does it improve accountability and transparency? Does it improve sustainability?

Local authorities can still play a central role in facilitating accountability. But they should no longer be the gatekeepers. And because local communities are not homogenous, real accountability must be granular, focused on and connected to the people who actually use the service.   

So the biggest question to be answered as the Review moves into the implementation phase will be how to combine the envisaged model of national accountability with local variation, flexibility and responsiveness. That phase will not begin in earnest until after the upcoming election when the necessary legislation is drafted. But our own agenda, to work in partnership with others to influence the shape of things to come, begins now.

With ingenuity and creativity – and in collaboration with stakeholders across the public and third sectors – we can ensure that co-design is at the heart both of the implementation process and of the system which emerges from it. One thing is certain – the status quo is not an option. And as the Review itself concludes – ‘If not now, when? If not this way, how? And if not us – who?’

This week, the Department for Health and Social Care advertised the post of Director General – Adult Social Care. In the preamble, Permanent Secretary for DHSC Sir Chris Wormald says “This vital role needs an exceptional candidate who can support a high-quality adult social care sector to care for and protect the most vulnerable members of our society” and that “A successful candidate needs to be committed and passionate about collaborating with ministers and a complex stakeholder group including the NHS, private sector providers, local government and with other government departments… to improve adult social care and create a system that is fit for the future.” This doesn’t sound to us like the social care future we need or want, so we’ve decided to ‘recruit’ our own Director General (not really…).

The job description is below. If you use Twitter, please share with the message ‘Director General for a brighter future for social care’, tagging @DHSCgovuk and @Helen_Whately with the hashtag #ChangeTheJD