Bringing communities into social care

Well, there was no joy from the Chancellor in the Autumn Budget for the care, but I have been heartened by the outcry from all sides about the lack of even a passing reference to the sector by Phillip Hammond. It remains vitally important that we continue to make our case loud and clear.

So, are there any reasons to be cheerful in the world of social care? I think there are.

Recently, I was part of a superb VODG (Voluntary Organisations Disability group) event aimed at getting our collective views into the Civil Society Futures National Conversation, a current independent inquiry which is being chaired by Dr Julia Unwin, who joined us.

The discussion I was part of went something like this:

People with a learning disability, in increasing numbers, will continue to fall outside of support paid for by the local authority, so where will their support come from?

  • Support can come from family, which is often a vital part of a person’s support network
    It can come from friends, but how do we make friends when we need support to do so and when a social life through a smartphone, even if desirable, will be beyond many of our service users?
  • It can come from neighbours But how many of us actually know our neighbours, especially in towns and cities? We considered life outside of towns where a community ethos of looking out for each other is more likely to exist. Between us we could all recall many acts of friendliness and support towards people with a disability involving shop-keepers, churchgoers, the post-office etc. all of them genuine and, most importantly, non-patronising.
  • We all felt strongly that humans have a fundamental need to belong and to feel we belong, to a group of our peers be it linked to a church, our job, an evening class, a football club, a political party, a social club, any or all of these can make up our identity.

In 2002, a very different time for social care, a Government White Paper called ‘Valuing People’ was launched laying out a strategy and a framework for local authorities to develop better services for people with a learning disability. It was developed with people with a learning disability, was well received, and in 2009 it was relaunched as an updated three-year strategy called ‘Valuing People Now’.

‘Valuing People’ and ‘Valuing People Now’ were of enormous value. However, they have had their day and it seems to me that a new national strategy, for the world of disability as it is 15 years on, would be of enormous value.

And a crucial part of it could be the role of civil society and community connecting.

When we look at frightening statistics about the future of social care such as increasing demand, massive reductions in funding and the huge numbers of additional staff that the sector will need, I can see no alternative but for us all, as part of a civil society, to step up to the plate and play our part. This would be nothing new and, without getting all misty-eyed about it, could be somewhat of a return to a pre-smartphone, pre-social-media past when people actually stopped, talked to each other, and were genuinely interested.