Unless we change our language, we’ll never ‘make it real’

The Making It Real statements (opens new window) are based on principles and values of personalisation and community-based support, including the five mentioned in this blog. But unless we change the language that dominates our practice, we’ll never make these principles and values real. 

People are citizens first and foremost. 

Absolutely. But we don’t talk about people as citizens, do we? We talk about people as service users. Customers. Clients. Consumers of our services. Passive recipients of our support. And often we don’t talk about people at all, using dehumanising terms like ‘cases’, ‘those’, and ‘the vulnerable’ instead. 

We have to start by recognising that all people are citizens first and foremost, with equal rights to equal lives. 

Conversations with people are based on what matters most to them. 

If only. Instead of conversations with people about what matters most to them, we ‘screen’ and ‘assess’ and review’ people, based on what matters most to us. 

Our conversations should be person-led, and have one basic question at their heart: ‘what does a good life look like to you, and how can we work together to achieve it?’ 

Co-production is key. 

Co-production is key. But it’s one of those words that has become part of our jargon, with multiple definitions and numerous interpretations. Often the definitions divide people up into ‘professionals’ and ‘service users’, categorising people into homogenous groups, reinforcing power dynamics, and ignoring reciprocity. Often the interpretations involve talking with people (‘consultation’ or ‘engagement’ – not co-production) who have no real power in terms of decision-making. Often our language and our practice create barriers, instead of building bridges. 

Co-production is about making something together – a decision, a plan, a service, a life - not just talking about something together. It’s about shifting and sharing power, and recognising people as equal partners, and as the experts in their lives. 

People are at the centre. 

Despite endless references to how ‘person-centred’ we are, our language reveals that processes are at the centre of our practice, not people. ‘Triaging’, ‘screening’, ‘assessing’, ‘referring’, ‘placing’, ‘reviewing’, ‘safeguarding’. We have ‘MDTs’ and ‘panels’ and ‘forums’ where decisions are made about people, without them. We follow ‘procedures’ and send people down ‘pathways’, more concerned with doing things right than doing the right thing.  

If we’re really going to shift our practice, we must move away from our transactional, process-led ways of working and adopt instead a more human, relational, person-led approach. 

A sense of belonging, positive relationships and contributing to community life are important to people’s health and wellbeing.  

The term ‘belonging’ sums up everything good care and support should be all about. Yet our language reveals we view people as ‘them’ not ‘us’, and our jargon and acronyms and judgements further exclude. We gatekeep instead of welcome, and our practice involves fitting people in to boxes on our forms, to ‘schedules’, to ‘services’, to ‘settings’. 

If we talk about relationships at all, they’re usually harmful. Love doesn’t feature much in our conversations, or in our assumptions or expectations around people’s lives. 

And ‘community’ is somewhere we signpost you too, and somewhere you ‘access’ for ‘low-level support’ and ‘meaningful activities’. 

Don’t we all want to live in a place we call home with the people and things that we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing the things that matter to us? 

That’s the Social Care Future (opens new window) vision.  

Changing our language is a vital step towards making it real. 


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