How many social care workers does it take to change a lightbulb?

I spoke at GovToday’s Social Care conference yesterday on ‘rethinking personalisation.’ My argument you won’t be surprised to hear was not that we should re-think whether personalisation is a good idea, but that we still have more to do in really understanding what good care and support as part of living a good life really looks like. I started by suggesting that when I talk to policy makers and when I talk to people who use services and front line workers it can seem like there are two different worlds. In one world, anything is possible. We can make savings whilst tailoring support to what people want and helping people find good lives. The other world feels at times like it’s full of cuts, gaps, unmet need and failures in even basic care and safety. You could say that just shows how out of touch with reality the people dreaming of personalisation are, but you can find real people living real lives in both worlds.

I believe that a lot of the people living in the world full of possibility and who have found many of the resources they need, get to live in that better world not because they live in an area where there is endless public money (not sure where that would be these days), but because they have found other kinds of resources, including being supported to find and build their own resourcefulness. Often when people are able to live lives which feel whole and not fractured, another pair of very different realms – the realm of services and the realm of families and friendships – have found a way of complementing each other, rather than ignoring or fighting against each other.

The Joint Committee which looked at the draft Care and Support Bill reports next Tuesday. I’m hopeful that it will recommend that the Bill does more to create that alignment between paid and unpaid, formal and informal. If it does, I think that the Bill and last year’s White Paper could be seen in future years as a turning point for social care, and perhaps for attitudes to public services more generally. This won’t be about cutting existing services and hoping for the best. But it will be about a system which recognises for the first time that the best public services support what we can do for ourselves, and do everything to avoid replacing or undermining our existing skills, resources and networks of support.

I ended my bit yesterday by setting out some tests for the success of the Bill and the White Paper. These don’t by any means cover everything which needs to happen, but they are changes which I think would be good indicators of genuine transformation:

  • Higher educational achievement amongst disabled children.
  • Increasing employment for working age disabled people.
  • Reduction in isolation and loneliness amongst older people.
  • Eradication of hate and ‘mate’ crime.
  • Good outcomes for disabled parents and their children.
  • Families who provide unpaid care become financially and emotionally sustainable.

A lady in the audience posed a different test. She said, show me the local area in which an older disabled person can get a light bulb changed. Without help, they may end up in hospital with a broken hip having stumbled in the dark. A colleague from an older person’s charity described their handy person service, which would certainly change a light bulb, but is getting harder and harder to sustain as budgets are cut. It’s better to have a light bulb changing service than to sit in the dark. But 99% of us live within a few minutes of someone who would be willing to change our light bulb, if we knew each other and they knew help was needed. If we can stay in touch with people on the other side of world, finding someone to change a light bulb in the same street shouldn’t be impossible.

One thought on “How many social care workers does it take to change a lightbulb?

  1. Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes? March 15, 2013 / 11:45 am

    Another excellent blog Alex – and it was great to attend Social Care 2013 conference and be able to see your presentation live. I was delighted that you mentioned TLAP’s ‘Making It Real’ initiative and impressed that your talk tried to address the real world where personalisation can mean very different things to different people. Seeing things from different perspectives is essential if we are to build empathy and help people work together for positive change.

    Bridging the divide between theory and the lived experience of real individuals and families is the most important issue of all – but sharing good practice and seeing what is possible will make the difference. Shared Lives is a great example of an imaginative, effective approach – choosing family-based support is, to me, an obvious win. The light bulb example was very powerful – very sad that people should be so isolated and disconnected in an age of such amazing connectivity – this needs to change!

    I would also encourage anyone interested in personalisation to apply to join our LinkedIn group ‘The personalisation group to integrate social care, health and housing.’

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