Heroes and victims - the language of Coronavirus

People who work with me know that I’m passionate about the language of social care. So as the story of Covid-19 continues to be written and rewritten, I’m interested in the narratives that are emerging about care and what all this means for our social care future.

Right now, if you’re a carer, you’re a hero. You’re on ‘the frontline’ in the ‘battle against the virus’. You’re commended by the Government, praised by the media, and applauded by the public. Yet you’re just doing what you’ve always done – albeit in exceptionally challenging times. In ‘normal’ times, you’re barely acknowledged, poorly paid (or not paid at all) and inadequately supported. In this pandemic, you have a starring role, yet you’re still poorly paid (or not paid at all) and inadequately supported. The real reason you’re ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘risking your life’ is because you’re doing what you’ve always done and more, without the adequate protective equipment and working conditions and support to keep you safe.

In contrast to the carers in the spotlight, ‘the vulnerable’ / ‘the disabled’ / ‘the elderly’ / ‘the shielded’ remain in the shadows. Anonymous, homogenous groups who must be protected and cared for. The helpless ‘others’ who must be helped. This paternalistic, othering narrative is perpetuated by the new ‘Care for others’ adult social care recruitment campaign, launched to attract more people to work in social care, to “provide quality care to the most vulnerable in our society”.

The campaign strapline is “We need you now. They need you always”. Contrast this with the recruitment campaign for the NHS ‘volunteer army’, headed “Your NHS needs you”. While the NHS is yours, social care is for them.

Alongside the recruitment campaign, Matt Hancock announced the new ‘CARE’ brand – symbolising “the entire care profession”. But this brand perpetuates the notion of care as a service. Care described in a plan and delivered in a ‘package’. Care ‘provided’ to ‘service users’ and ‘residents’ in ‘episodes’ and ‘placements’ and ‘settings’. Care with a primary purpose of relieving pressure on the NHS. And we all know how that’s played out in recent weeks.

While the horrific reality of this pandemic continues to be exposed, there’s another story to tell about ‘care’. It doesn’t feature much in the daily press briefings and news headlines, but it’s familiar to so many of us. A story of families and friends and neighbours and colleagues and mutual aid groups and community hubs and micro-enterprises who care.

In contrast to CARE for ‘others’, this is caring about one another.

When we’re talking about our ‘new normal’, we need to adopt the language and echo the values and sustain the momentum of this amazing collaborative, community response. Of connection and belonging. Trust and respect. Reciprocity and equity. Purpose and hope. Kindness and love.

This is the language – and reality – of genuinely social care. This is about us, not them and us. This is how we build back better.


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