A few weeks ago we took part in an event called Social Care Future, organised by a group of activists who had decided that rather than asking as they did every year for more people with lived experience to be at the ‘official’ social care conference, they would put on their own. With virtually no budget, over 12 months of planning it went from some tweets to a two-day, two-venue event for hundreds of people. The final session took people with lived experience into the official conference for a standing-room-only session to share ideas between the ‘fringe’ and the mainstream.
I have a personal reason for remembering this event fondly: it started with an inclusive theatre group, MixIt performing a musical based on my book. That’s is not a sentence I ever imagined writing! In it, people who use services imagined a social care future in which they had ‘escaped the invisible asylum’, are in charge and living the lives they wanted with people they chose. Just as happens in Shared Lives now.
But I think the event felt significant for everyone who took part. We are still in the minority of organisations who often attend events with our Ambassadors and others who share their life. In the health, social care and charity worlds, we still think our job is to challenge those in power to do things differently, rather than to do what the organisers of Social Care Future did. They organised the event they wanted, and then invited people with power to meet them on their own terms.
With politicians fighting amongst themselves and continuing delays to the social care Green Paper, and the NHS Long Term Plan, I think this is a wider lesson for our sector.
Fed up of waiting for the ‘official’ Green Paper, the Local Government Association published its own – with Shared Lives highlighted as the future. Our members constantly demonstrate the power of ‘let’s just get on with it’.
I have so often heard people with learning disabilities or other support needs frustrated that they can’t do something they want to do, because it has been so hard to get all the right people’s permissions. Shared Lives is designed to get the right people involved and give them as much freedom as possible to get on with life. We will never invent a service which solves loneliness, but hundreds of older people are now choosing to share their homes with younger people through Homeshare (which often helps with younger person’s loneliness as much as the older person’s). With this BBC film being viewed 25 million times, the appetite for bringing people together with shared living has never been stronger.
But this year has not always been easy for us. We have faced funding uncertainty, and we are relieved to be ending the year with much more financial stability and certainty for the coming years than we entered it. This funding is also mirrored by councils across the country who want to work with us to deliver their high ambitions to grow and develop their schemes in number and quality. We helped Greater Manchester set itself the UK’s most ambitious target: to grow its Shared Lives provision to 15% of learning disability support, amongst other areas we’re working with to grow and develop schemes (enjoy and please share our feel-good Birmingham Shared Lives advert).
This year saw more than 900 people using Shared Lives as a health service, and leaders in the NHS have seen how powerful it can be – such as the head of a brain injury unit who found Shared Lives could support two people (film) who could not otherwise engage with their existing services. But we also learned just how hard it can be to persuade busy NHS clinicians to use a new kind of support, including people moving home from hospital (film). We worked with SCIE, Think Local, Act Personal and Nesta to develop models of whole-system change which set out how people and organisations in a local area can combine Homeshare, Shared Lives and other community models into a whole new care and support system, rather than waiting for the existing one to change, including for young people (film).
We did all this while supporting and advising over half of the UK’s 10,000 Shared Lives carers, and nearly all the UK’s Shared Lives and Homeshare organisations. We provided individual advice to hundreds of Shared Lives carers, helping members to organise and campaign as local groups, such as the Shared Lives carers we helped to negotiate an invaluable first pay rise in their area in many years.
Our first UK carer recruitment drive raised awareness with celebrity support – Arabella Weir, we wrestled with benefits challenges around universal credit, helped local organisations to measure and demonstrate the outcomes of their work, and worked with peers to address a proposed change in legislation which would have inadvertently caused huge problems for the Homeshare sector, just as it is starting to take off. We will never invent a service which solves loneliness, but hundreds of older people are now choosing to share their homes with younger people through Homeshare (which often helps with younger person’s loneliness as much as the older person’s). With this BBC film being viewed 25 million times, the appetite for bringing people together with shared living has never been stronger. In the nations, there was governments announced investment into Shared Lives for the first time in Northern Ireland, as well as scoping of Homeshare, and we continued to grow and diversify the model in Wales and Scotland (podcast).
The coming year will be a time of change for us, including changes to our team, a rebrand and a new website. Our resources remain limited despite generous support from our members, governments and charitable supporters. But, whatever happens at government level, we learned this year the power of getting on with it, and creating our own more social, more caring future.
Thank you to all our members and supporters for everything you do to help us and more importantly to help thousands of people to live happier, safer and fuller lives.
With best wishes for a happy Christmas and peaceful new year!