The social care report that feels like a conversation with a friend

Kate Sibthorp, National Co-production Advisory Group
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At the end of January, a new report (opens new window) was launched. Care and Support Reimagined is the result of two years’ work by a commission set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

I have a deep and personal interest in the future of social care and support. My daughter, Maddy, lives at home with me and her Dad. She requires support 24/7 so her future and ours, and that of her wider family, is inextricably bound to what happens to social care in England.

I don’t think Jo Public really understands what social care is, or could be. I’d venture that there are even a lot of people who work in the health and social care world who don’t get it either! This report does a great job of describing what it’s like for people at the moment, as well as aspiring to a vision of a much better future.

Care and Support Reimagined says that the goal of social care is for people to flourish: having friends and social networks; contributing to the community; being involved in work; having fun; and being able to practice your religion if you are a person of faith. This is spot on. 

Talking of faith, I wonder if the fact that this report has come from the Church of England might be off-putting for some people. I would categorically say ‘don’t let that stop you!’ The report is rooted in Christian theology. Of course it is! I worried that it might take a ‘charitable’ view of social care — the idea of doing good for others who accept help passively and gratefully. But no, it talks eloquently about people being unique and equal; about interdependence and mutuality; about being alongside and doing things with people, not to them; about empathy, not sympathy. 

I find it heartening that this report originated from outside the health and social care system. It gives it a degree of objectivity that is fresh and apolitical. As a family carer, it feels as if a kind and empathetic friend has said, ‘I see you and I see how challenging life can be sometimes. I don’t really understand what life is like for you, so can we have a conversation? I’d like to know more and see if there’s anything I can do to make things better.’

There were many aspects of the report that particularly resonated for me…

On carers: the idea that we should be able to have ‘restorative’ breaks. That one word — restorative — says so much. For me, it’s the idea of having the space to free your mind of thinking about the person you care for and just chillaxing or doing something that nourishes you emotionally. 

On loving kindness: this is one of the values that underpin the report. Lots of social care providers baulk when you mention the ‘love’ word and see it as inappropriate. But Care and Support Reimagined describes it as an ‘obligation to act with justice and kindness towards others’. I worry about who is going to love my daughter when I’m no longer able to. I want people to really care about her in their hearts because that is the only way she’ll continue to have a good life and be happy and safe.

On community: the report recognises that communities need investment and nurturing and that they could play a much bigger role. This could be a game-changer in supporting people who don’t meet the threshold for support from social care, as well as being a catalyst for inclusion. I’d like to see churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and civic spaces etc open up meeting rooms and facilities to simply create opportunities for people to come together and see what happens — free! Just bring people together, start a conversation and see what emerges! 

And there are some interesting ideas about doing things differently. Care and Support Reimagined calls for a National Care Covenant which sets out the mutual rights and responsibilities of us all – individuals, families, communities and the state. 

It also talks about separating the Care Act assessment process from the care and support planning process. I’d welcome more conversations about how this could work. My experience is that the issue of cost taints the assessment conversation and leads to local authorities taking more and more control of the minutiae of people’s support. It makes both processes stressful and detracts from what matters. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could sit down with a social worker who was alongside me, rooting for my daughter, wanting her to flourish? 

A key message in Care and Support Reimagined is that we should value people, not for what they produce, but for who they are. It is a vision that sets aside the divisive ‘othering’ that only values people who are economically productive. Having Maddy in our family has made us all better people – more tolerant of each other, more giving, more understanding of difference, less selfish, more aware of what really matters in life. The report sums this up as society saying to everyone who draws on care and support: ‘It’s good that you exist — and I’m glad you’re here.’ I say, please read the report, tell others about it and let’s talk more about the future of social care.

Kate represented the National Co-production Advisory Group at the Think Local Act Personal webinar in connection with this report.  You can catch up on the event here.


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