In my last entry, I reflected on some of the questions I was involved in debating at a seminar for senior social care colleagues who are all trying to embed ideas of community and citizen leadership into their local area. I suggested that there is no one way of achieving this, but a number of quite complex ways of contributing to it. Here’s an attempt to unpack that a little further.
We started the session by asking colleagues to think about the journey that people make in and out of the social care system. At present, that journey can feel like being presented with a succession of doors and the challenge to batter, argue or beg your way through each one, with the promise of a service at the end of it. If social care was a nightclub, it would have large bouncers, a strict door policy, a small range of rather expensive drinks and no pass outs: once you’re in, you can’t leave if you want any chance of getting back in later on. I was struck by something Lynne Elwell of Partners in Policymaking said recently: “I spent years trying to get my daughter into the system, and then as many years trying to help her escape again.”
We can’t afford a social care system which is an exclusive and expensive club, particularly when it’s not a club many people want to be a member of. So, counter-intuitively, to reduce the costs, we need a system which is open to everyone, but which is just as easy to leave, and return to, as it is to enter. Derby have been developing a Local Area Coordination approach with Inclusive Neighbourhoods. LAC was developed in Western Australia and has been in use (and rigorously evaluated) for 20 years. It’s based on having a worker in every area with an open door, small amounts of money to spend on catalysing lasting changes, and a remit which is to help people to find non-service ways of living a good life, with connections to a range of services for those with no other option.
This is not an either/or choice between state and community and it’s not a choice between giving people services or abandoning them in the vague hope that something will turn up. It’s the idea that lots of us, at times of crisis or change, might benefit from a little help to understand what kinds of support are around us, or to create networks of support where we have none. At the moment, this kind of conversation is reserved for those in crisis, who often have the narrowest range of viable choices and who arrive at that point having had to prove their dependence and their needs, not having been helped to gain confidence and to think about how to maximise their own skills and support networks. If people are to have a real chance of creating more of their own solutions, the state’s role in helping us before, during and after that planning process will have to change dramatically.