I read the Chief Inspector of Social Care’s, Andrea Sutcliffe, recent article in the Guardian with disappointment and concern at her arguments, as well as the wider debates within social care. Social Care has been politically reduced into simply being about warehousing older people, as loved ones simply waiting to die, with no contribution left to offer society.
The fact younger people like myself have remained caught up in this stereotyping makes it even worse. I had to reflect on my own assumptions as I realised that the aspiration to make a meaningful contribution to family, community and society remains the same at any age, even if people’s individual goals are very different. There is a terrible myth that the onset of chronic illness or impairment gives a guaranteed spot on a conveyor-belt to dependency and meaningless, which does not have to be the case.
If we explore the endless claims that there is a funding crisis within social care, it depends what you want from social care. If you want anyone who appears to be dependent on others in any way to be left doing nothing in a care home for the rest of their lives, all in the name of dignity and compassion, then this is no longer going to be affordable again. I am glad this is the case as it seems a lack of money has been the central motivation for the many innovations within social care to enable and empower individuals.
Direct payments, paying money directly to users to manage their own support, has been the greatest advancement in social care over the last 20 years. It however seems that too many resources have been used by professionals to reduce the power of direct payments, so they can retain their power and their jobs. The greatest criticism I have about the current discussions within social care is there are still incredibly low expectations of the quality of life, in terms of opportunities and experiences, of service users generally. So long as I am alive, reasonably healthy, eating, sleeping, able to get dress, and feel safe in my own home, the job is ticked as done.
I would like to suggest the current warehousing outcomes of social care is neither good for users nor cost efficient. By providing proper support to enable and empower users of all ages to maximise their full potential, however that looks, can only bring benefits to their families, communities and the wider society. While funding will always be an issue, it is the quality and attitudes of the support provided that will make the real difference.
When we stop trying to look after people like children, and start supporting them as adults, is when we can start to feel proud of social care. But to achieve this, we need to overcome a number of things. These include the difficulties many social care staff have in letting go of the power they wield within a system of passivity. We also need to change the public’s obsession with perceiving all service users as vulnerable beings who deserve their pity due to their own fears about frailty.
Both Politicians and civil servants like Andrea appear to be mostly unable to see social care as a tool to enable and empower people. They prefer to portray social care as an act of charity upon the weak and vulnerable, which a civilised society has a responsibility to simply take on the chin. But this attitude is helping no one except those who are dependent on this disempowering warehousing for their livelihoods.