Serious about Shared Lives

This is a guest blog from my colleague Nick Gordon (nick@sharedlivesplus.org.uk) who works in our communications team and supports local Shared Lives providers and commissioners with their demographic analysis, marketing and recruitment. Nick writes:

With the anniversary of the pandemic hitting approaching, the vaccine roll-out offers hope, if not yet certainty of when ‘normal’ life will return. All we can be certain of is that ‘normal’ will not be what it was before. We will be in a period of huge challenges – long covid, mental ill health, ravaged economies – and huge changes to the way that we live, work and travel.

Throughout these extraordinary times, and despite enormous pressures on our health and social care systems, Shared Lives care has continued to shine, providing the safest and best quality form of care as rated by the CQC and amazing outcomes for people like Meg who have found connections deep enough to sustain them through the long period of social distancing.

Recently we have seen an increase in local authorities seeking our advice and guidance on how to grow Shared Lives services as part of a re-imagining of social care which many areas recognise cannot wait for a long-promised government plan for reform. Social care workforce recruitment is a longstanding challenge in a sector known for difficult work, low pay, low status and long hours. Shared Lives offers flexible, home-based work where people can focus on what matters to the person who comes to live with or visit them, and, having been through a unique, in-depth recruitment and matching process, are trusted enough to be freed from much of the unnecessary paperwork, rules and bureaucracy which prevent so many social care workers from being as caring, let alone as social, as they dreamed of being when they entered the profession.

Our strategic advice and support service is currently working with North East ADASS across 12 local authority areas to deliver a wide-ranging and ambitious growth plan, which addresses a common barrier for many Shared Lives providers: how to recruit new carers. As well as a cost-benefit analysis of existing activity, we’ll be delivering data-driven demographic customer profiling for existing carers, along with the design and delivery of a digitally-enabled marketing and communications strategy .

As well as growth, we can also work with local authority commissioners to help deliver a business case for Shared Lives in the first instance. Based on our work to date we have demonstrated an average £20,000 saving per live-in arrangement per year, when compared to other types of available support for people with similar levels of need.

Not only this, our recently announced National Lottery Community funded project is helping to embed a shared, online approach to recruiting and assessing potential Shared Lives carers,  from initial enquiry through to full vetting and training requirements. Launching in March this online portal will further streamline Shared Lives carer recruitment, maintaining an in-depth, values-based approach, but reducing recruitment and approval times from 4-6 months to 4-6 weeks.

Shared Lives is still a relatively small cog in the UK’s social care wheel, but with an average annual increase of 6% in Shared Lives live-in arrangements since 2012, we know we can grow the sector in the teeth of financial and demographic challenges. Now we are entering a period when there will unfortunately be thousands of people looking for work, and many more are already re-thinking what a good life looks like and what they want from their career. Flexible, rewarding, home-based and resilient during the pandemic: if national government, local councils and the new Integrated Care Systems are serious about radical change, it’s time to get serious about Shared Lives.

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