It’s time for a language revolution

In adult social care, language not only describes reality; it shapes it. Every word we choose carries weight, influencing perceptions, attitudes, and even the policy decisions that affect millions of lives. It's time to harness the revolutionary power of language to foster more dignified and independent lives for people who draw on care and support.

The current narrative and its limitations

Traditionally, the narrative around adult social care has skewed toward dependency and fragility. Terms like 'elderly' and 'disabled', though perhaps seen as accurate in a medical context, frame people as liabilities — dependent on society’s goodwill. This narrative not only shapes public perceptions but also impacts the self-esteem of people drawing on care and support, subtly wearing away their independence and dignity.

Dare to imagine a new narrative

Imagine a world where adult social care is aligned with empowerment and independence. In this world, language is not a tool of limitation but liberation. By shifting our vocabulary from that of incapacity to capability, we can begin to break down stereotypes and foster a society that values all its members, regardless of their age or condition.

Words of change

It does feel like a shift is taking place. A shift from referring to people as ‘patients’ or ‘service users’ to ‘people who draw on care and support’, or ‘people who access care and support’, or simply ‘people’. This change is the cornerstone of a broader movement advocating for person-centered, respectful approaches that recognise the dignity and independence of each person.

Humanising social care through language

The term ‘people who draw on care and support’ does more than label; it humanises. It reminds us that each person is not defined by their needs or conditions but is a person with a unique story, background, and future. This approach aligns with human rights principles, emphasising respect and dignity above all. By moving away from clinical or transactional terms like ‘patients’ or ‘service users’, we acknowledge that people are active participants in their own lives, not passive recipients of services.

Recognising diversity and individuality

This shift in language also reflects a recognition of diversity within social care. The needs, experiences, and aspirations of people who draw on care and support are as varied as the people themselves. Using terms that accommodate this diversity helps to avoid the pitfalls of one-size-fits-all solutions and highlights the necessity of tailoring care and support to each person's circumstances and preferences.

Uplifting and empowering

Focusing on the person first is about uplifting. When we say ‘people who draw on care and support’, we inherently imply collaboration and partnership. This perspective invites an approach to social care where the voices of people involved are not only heard but are integral. It creates an environment where people feel valued and respected, which can significantly affect their health and well-being.

Driving policy and perception change

The power of this shift in language extends beyond the immediate interactions in a health or social care setting—it influences public perception and policy. By using language that emphasises dignity, rights, and possibilities, organisations and advocates set a tone that can inspire greater engagement and support from the public and policymakers. It encourages a view of health and social care as inclusive networks that support empowerment rather than imposing limitations.

Embrace the change

The shift to using more ordinary human language is pivotal in our journey towards more inclusive and respectful health and social care. It invites professionals, policymakers, and the public to rethink how we interact with and think about people who draw on care and support. It challenges us to consider the person first and the care and support second.

We must all be champions of this change. Our words and actions contribute to reshaping care and support. By adopting a more human approach to language, we not only respect the individuality and rights of each person but also foster a culture where dignity and independence are paramount.

A future built on respect

As we continue to advocate for and implement this change in language, we build a foundation for care that truly respects and uplifts people. Let's commit to using more human language, not just as a policy or a practice but as a promise—a promise to recognise, respect, and empower every person navigating their journey through health and social care. This is how we build a future that respects every person's dignity and rights.

Have you got something to say about the language of social care? We'd love to hear from you, contact us today.


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