This week has been our second Shared Lives week. It’s a way for us to spread the word about Shared Lives and dozens of schemes this year have organised local events. At our UK conference this week, Shared Lives carers told us how frustrating it could be to be willing and able to share their family home, and yet to find that, in some cases, they waited years rather than months to be matched with someone who needed support, because front line social workers still don’t understand the model, or even know it exists.
We can’t afford to waste the talents and enthusiasm of people who have gone through the in-depth Shared Lives approval process and are willing to offer so much. It was humbling to talk to Shared Lives carers Stuart and Bobby from Brighton, both former nurses who decided to make the change to Shared Lives because they felt it was better to ‘offer a lot to a small group of people, rather than a tiny bit to lots of people’. They share their family life with people who other services have considered ‘challenging’ but who are living happily with them.
Graham and Lorna draw on their combined expertise of having been a hotelier and a care business manager to offer life-changing support to people who again have been labelled ‘challenging’. They explained how they start every day sitting down with the people they support to discuss the day before and plan the day ahead. They keep animals and grow produce, even supporting one of the people who lives with them to start up her own micro-business raising chickens.
To spread the word about what its Shared Lives folk are achieving, the Shropshire Shared Lives scheme enlisted the local town crier. As you can see, we have some great pictures of people who use Shared Lives shouting out the message with him. (Frustratingly, the local press photographer was more interested in the photos he took of a young woman who briefly joined in the town crying. My colleagues explained that, photogenic as she was, she had nothing to do with the Shared Lives story. But the paper still used a picture of her, thus excluding the people who use Shared Lives from their publication.)
Asif, who is in his early twenties and originally from Pakistan, explained that English isn’t his first language and that this was his first time speaking to a large audience. That didn’t stop him from delivering a powerful speech entirely without notes. He told us how, being blind, he could be tempted to let his Shared Lives carers do everything for him, but “it’s my life not theirs, so I need to do things for myself. They are helping me build skills and confidence to live my life.” For Asif that means achieving at college (“My college had to learn how to work with their first blind student – we learnt together”) and at sport. He is a keen runner and competes with sighted people as a Judo green belt. His main message was, “never give up on your ambitions”.
Sandie Keene, President of the Directors’ association ADASS, outlined her vision for a social care system which invests in citizens, families and communities and which she is putting into practice in Leeds, not only through the city’s support to its two Shared Lives schemes, but also through its Neighbourhood Networks, which are user-led organisations working a very local level to bring together people entitled to care and others in the community, as well as local businesses, to create more inclusive communities. Sandie pledged her support for raising awareness of the value for money offered by Shared Lives, as did Liz Kendall MP, Shadow Care Minister, who said, “I think the work you do, and the values and principles you champion, must be at the heart of our care system in future. Your track record and experience have a huge amount to teach us as we grapple with the profound challenges created by our ageing population and the increasing number of people with disabilities.”
Liz set out a vision for a future where “people cannot be seen either as passive recipients of services, or as purely consumers. Instead, they must become genuine partners in co-designing and co-creating their care and support. For this to happen, neither the old state-driven nor predominantly market-based approaches to public service reform will work because both can end up dis-empowering people. Instead the new state will understand that people are genuine citizens with whom power and responsibility must be individually and collectively shared.” She outlined five lessons for transforming care which were featured in the Independent.
Finally, Norman Lamb MP, the Care Minister told a packed hall, “I’m a huge fan of Shared Lives.” The Minister compared his horror at the Winterbourne scandal where thousands of pounds a week of public money was spent on care which wasn’t just poor but criminal, and Shared Lives which offers a way for people to live ‘good lives’, even in a time of austerity. Our current system is “too paternalistic”, always thinking “we know best”, he argued, whereas what is needed is a partnership approach in which risks and responsibilities are shared. The Minister agreed with the idea that the moves to base social care on achieving well-being should be a vision for all public services, taking the principle of choice and control into sectors like health and mental health where they are currently weaker. His conclusion was, “I want to see Shared Lives as absolutely the norm.”