Richard Jones, Director of Lancashire’s Adult Services and our newest Trustee, says that when he thinks of Shared Lives, he thinks of a young man who used to live in services and now lives with a family and as a result he is loved and can give love. He matters and can contribute to family life. He is part of that family’s holidays, weddings and funerals. He has the opportunity to feel responsible for those around him, not just reliant on them.
We had our board and team planning day this week. It was fantastic to be part of a group of people bringing the same passion, but from very different viewpoints, to thinking about Shared Lives and other small community approaches to care and support. Part of the thinking was about how we ensured that Shared Lives and micro-enterprises became much better understood. We decided that our offer was about citizens, communities and costs: our members help people to become citizens, who can contribute in all kinds of ways, as well as receive great support. Our members build upon relationships and communities. And doing this isn’t more expensive than traditional care: increasing numbers of areas are using it as a way of bringing down costs whilst helping people to live better lives.
Some of the discussion was about the place of Shared Lives and micro-enterprises within the personalisation reforms (which I’ve written about a number of times below).
I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that we latched onto personal budgets as the key driver for personalisation at a time when we are all more consumerist than we’ve ever been. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the rise of consumerism has been accompanied by a rise in loneliness and isolation. There are many people, including many younger people with physical impairments, whose goal is to have my own flat, my own car and my own job. Those are admirable goals and it’s one of the great achievements of social care that those goals are no longer out of reach for lots of people.
But we are also at risk of adding to the isolation epidemic, particularly but not only amongst older people, through treating people as if they exist in a vacuum. I will never forget the words of a mother of a man with schizophrenia who had been living successfully in a group living situation. When he was on his own, the voices he heard became much harder to ignore. The council, in her view, was forcing him to move out of group living into his own flat, ironically in the name of ‘choice and control’. The place of his own on offer was a flat in a sink estate a long way from his Mum who was a key part of his support network. She said, “I don’t think ‘the community’ will be turning up on his doorstep bearing casseroles.”
Helping people to gain a sense of belonging requires more than a greater choice of services, or services which are higher ‘quality’, or more ‘innovative’, notwithstanding that those are good and useful things for services to aim for.
This is why having a sense of belonging is intimately tied up with responsibility and why it cannot be bestowed on someone by a service. When we talk of people talking about responsibility in this country, we are often talking about money. Are you living on benefits? Do you have a job? Are you a drain on resources? Some people will always need some support from the state to live a good life. But having the opportunity to be responsible for others should be about more than money. The key insight of personalisation is not that everyone’s needs are different it’s that everyone’s contribution is different. When we ‘protect’ people from having any responsibilities, we stop them making a contribution. We take huge risks with their citizenship and we tell them they don’t really belong.