See me, I am a person
My name is Sally Percival, I co-chair The National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG) and The Think Local Act Personal Partnership (TLAP) and I am a member of the Coalition for Collaborative Care Co-production team, but more importantly and the reason I am involved with these groups is because I care for my son, my daughter and my mum, all of whom have a disability and/or long term health conditions.
TLAP and NCAG have produced a great online tool called The Care and Support Jargon Buster. It has a wonderful array of “special” words and phrases used by professionals or groups that are difficult for others to understand and provides a clear and simple explanation of what those words or phrases mean.
One of those words is the phrase 'Service user'. This term is often used as a convenient label to refer to anyone with a disability, regardless of whether they use a service or not. Often, this already contentious label is then shortened even further to just one word: 'user'.
The dictionary definition describes a “user” as “someone that exploits others” - hardly a flattering term and I would definitely argue that far from exploiting, many people who use services actually give in terms of time, knowledge and expertise.
This term is so out-dated and I truly believe it is just a lazy way of using language which sums up a cold, impersonal and disconnected relationship. Many people would argue that it is just semantics but I really disagree. Language and the effects it has on people should never be underestimated, and history clearly shows just that.
I asked Jenny Carter, a very active member of NCAG what she thought of the phrase “service user”. Her answer was emphatic: “I am a person, my name is Jenny, not a service user, definitely not a user and I am not a label. It needs to go!”
Only last week at a social care meeting about my son, I was asked “do you have any other service users who live with you?” What a strange question! “No,” I replied, “just my family”. And recently when I questioned a support worker who worked within supported living about the phrase, I was told that it was the correct term and it was in all of the policies, so it must be right! And besides, what else should we call them? That kind of sums it up.
So what is the solution? It’s not rocket science. “I support 5 service users” becomes “I work with 5 people”. On the front of a booklet which says “service user agreement”, it becomes “Betty’s booklet.”
I have not found one instance where the phase service user cannot be changed to a better more informed choice of words. So to sum up, let’s start working and thinking in a more joined up way, where we are all just people.