We’re celebrating the start of Shared Lives week, just as the Prime Minister announces a 70th birthday present for the NHS: £20 billion a year in extra funding by 2023. The NHS being 70 means that social care is 70 too: they were created at the same time, but social care’s birthday present looks likely to be continued cuts. The public – and therefore the politicians they elect – value what they can understand. We understand doctors and nurses healing or curing us, so we’re grateful for what they do.
Social care is still poorly understood and too often associated with things we don’t like the sound of, like living in a care home, or failures of care. Even within the context of social care’s low profile, Shared Lives is poorly understood. It’s much older than the NHS and social care, with roots going back hundreds of years. In the 14th Century, around the time when the first asylums were being built in the UK, in a small town called Geel in Belgium, a few people were instead opening their homes to people who needed their support. The act of sharing your home and family life is radical, even shocking in a world where we can feel we have less and less contact with each other, but it’s also deeply personal. It goes unnoticed except by the people who feel safe, settled and valued somewhere that feels like a home from home.
Much of what makes Shared Lives – and indeed Homeshare – special, is the unpaid contributions which people and families make to each other’s lives. But Shared Lives carers have to live and they are not volunteers, they are trained and paid as part of the UK’s highest-performing regulated care sector. We aren’t expecting £20 billion for Shared Lives. But we are calling for every area to value Shared Lives carers. Firstly, that means seeing and understanding what they do. We are inviting elected councillors and MPs to visit a Shared Lives household in their constituency to see for themselves what goes into making good lives when people need significant support. We have a Charter for Shared Lives and we want every area to use it as a model for their own local Charter, which sets out what local people can expect when they share their lives. And we are not ignoring money. I meet Shared Lives carers who have contributed vast amounts of their time, energy and lives to ensuring someone lives well, but who have not even been considered for a pay increase in over a decade. They do not feel valued in the way that they should, and we want every area to commit to including Shared Lives carers in their workforce development and pay reviews.
The NHS and social care are 70. Shared Lives isn’t far off 700. Isn’t it time we celebrated – and valued – those thousands of shared lives as they deserve?