Finally, social care is being recognised by our political leaders as vital to our nation’s health and wellbeing. All parties now recognise that ordinary people can be called upon to pay vast amounts towards their care, in contrast to our free-at-the-point-of-need NHS. There is public recognition of what social care is, for the first time. But now we need to visualise what it could be.
Our annual State of Shared Lives Sector reports give a glimpse of a possible future. They have consistently shown that Shared Lives is growing in England, and now we have evidence of new growth in all four home nations. They have also highlighted the difference Shared Lives makes to people’s lives. Many people who might otherwise have lived on their own or in a care home are finding a settled home with their chosen Shared Lives household. Meanwhile, a new group of older people and others who live with their families, but need regular overnight or daytime breaks, get those breaks from visiting their chosen Shared Lives carer, often matched with them because they both enjoy the same activities, rather than struggling with the stress and disruption which more institutionalised breaks services can bring. People live well and sometimes achieve the impossible.
This year our annual report for England (as reported in Community Care) paints both an encouraging and concerning picture. In previous years, Shared Lives has grown strongly, despite the cuts which are shrinking all other forms of social care. The net growth has been about 1000 additional people per year. This year, the number of people using Shared Lives in England has grown by around 580, to just under 12,000 people, around half of whom are living with their Shared Lives carer, and the other half are split between short breaks and daytime support. Look at the numbers of people using Shared Lives by region, however, and it is clear that there is a widening gap between those regions which are accelerating and those which have in previous years been stalled, and are now starting to slip back. So the regions which are growing, have added over 1,100 additional people. Half of this growth comes from the North West, with London and the South West splitting most of the rest. There are signs of growth in the North East, which has been one of the smallest regions and where we are working with directors’ association ADASS and the region’s Shared Lives schemes and partners to create a regional hub. The South East and Yorkshire have seen significant reductions, however, after having previously been regions which were using and developing Shared Lives strongly. The East and West Midlands remain essentially unchanged and the East of England, which has been the smallest region for some time, is now falling. Meanwhile, the model is growing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and we have embarked upon ambitious new programmes in each nation, with strong support from the Wales Government in particular.
With so much news about cuts and the crisis in the NHS, it is easy to believe that the future of public services will just be less of what we have now. But we believe that the future will be whatever is made by those who choose to make it. There is a time for tweaking and refining the existing model of social care, but this is not that time. Our large public service organisations, under stress and silted up with the governance requirements which must accompany any big budget, are not the place where radical change will happen.
So we need significant central government investment to avoid crisis becoming catastrophe, but then what? Shared Lives started small and in too many areas has been ignored and taken for granted (we meet Shared Lives carers who have had no pay rise in a decade, and some who are expected to care 24/7, despite common sense and the ombudsman agreeing that is not reasonable). But despite, or perhaps because of, its small and personal nature, Shared Lives has shown a tenacious ability to survive and even thrive in difficult circumstances. I think that is because Shared Lives carers and the people who live with them have, still, the freedom to use all their resources and resourcefulness in pursuit of a good life, not just a good service.
It may not look like a traditional public service, but I believe that our members could form the heart of a national movement which chooses to build a better, more human future for social care. We desperately need them to.
If you want support to develop Shared Lives or Homeshare in your area or region, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.