We published our now-annual report on the Shared Lives sector this week. It’s full of exciting news, including that Shared Lives is growing rapidly, with 1,300 more people using Shared Lives and 900 new Shared Lives carers, since the first report. Many more people are now using Shared Lives for day support and short breaks, where they visit their chosen Shared Lives carer rather than living with them. There is a significant number of older people using Shared Lives and we’re really excited about the impact the model can make on current ideas about older people’s support services, which at present too often leave older people isolated and lonely.
The Guardian featured a Shared Lives household in the article about Shared Lives which helped launch the report. The article was very positive and began with the three young women discussing whether to go out that night and being encouraged to ‘go out and have fun’ by their Shared Lives carer, Lorna. The article ended with a comment from Clare who said, “I would be bored and lonely if I had a flat. I have a big focus on food so I would be overweight too. I wouldn’t have enough support or care. I would probably die if I was in a flat.”
This reflects comments from people who use Shared Lives who talked recently to people with learning disabilities working for Your Voice Counts, a user-led organisation which carried out an evaluation of the model. People said things like, “I love everything about my life with my Shared Lives carers, now I feel like I belong to a family” and “When I moved into Shared Lives my Shared Lives carers saved my life, I was depressed and being bullied before I went to live with them. Now I feel so much better.”
There were two sceptical comments from people in the sector in the Guardian article. One by People First England, who wondered whether a Shared Lives carer would be likely to support a person with a learning disability living with them to ‘go out clubbing and have an active sex life’ if they wanted one. The first half of that question was partly answered by the discussion about going out clubbing at the beginning of the article, but we are asking our members and people living in Shared Lives to tell us about their attitudes to social lives, sex and relationships and will share their views with PFE and readers here. The second was from Peter Beresford, who felt that if he was a mental health service user, he wouldn’t want to live in someone else’s house. Not everyone would, of course, but the reason that some people with significant mental health issues find Shared Lives so successful was put brilliantly by a woman with a mental health problem who has used both Shared Lives and Homeshare:
‘Doris’ has been giving a ‘warts and all’ account of the highs and lows of Shared Lives and Homeshare support on Twitter for some time now and her tweets about this, and life in general, are well worth reading.
We have quite a few great case studies of people with mental health problems using Shared Lives (there are now almost a thousand people using Shared Lives primarily as a mental health service and we have a new officer, Jane jane@SharedLivesPlus.org.uk who is helping the sector develop this strand). But we are also seeking some more comments and stories from people which again we’ll share.
We don’t think that Shared Lives is for everyone, but we do think it should be offered to everyone so that they can choose. Clare, who lives in the Shared Lives household feature, put this brilliantly in her speech last year to parliament, which you can read here.