Care Minister meets Shared Lives households

Helen Whately, Minister of Sate for Social Care, met new and long-term Shared Lives carers during Shared Lives Week this week, as well as the social care staff who approved record number of carers under the pressure of the pandemic, using adapted assessment processes.

My colleague Phoebe Barber-Rowell, who leads our communications, writes:

The carers included some of the 200 just recently recruited by a successful DHSC-backed campaign using the Covid emergency fund. The carers described to the minister Shared Lives supports 15000 people across the country,  accounting for just 1% of social care provision overall – and yet it is consistently, officially ranked by both the CQC and the people who use it as the safest, highest quality form of social care there is.

In a reverse of typical care services, the new roles, created by Shared Lives Plus, are the ‘ultimate post-pandemic job opportunity’ and point towards the much-discussed topic of the future of social care, as they see carers provide personalised Shared Lives support in the carer’s home – on either a long-term, respite or day-support basis.

Emily and Allen Portwood are Shared Lives carers based in Warrington and have opened up their home to two young adults, Molly and Tyler.  Emily said: “To us, this isn’t a job, it’s about providing a home, security and happiness within our family for those who need it.

“We got into it because Allen, who is a former policeman and has his own MOT garage, was really inspired to help young adults. We looked at all the options and Shared Lives was the perfect choice – there are no unsociable hours away from our family and we can just include them in our lives. We have a big family already – it’s just got a little bigger!”

The jobs follow a £300,000 funding boost from the government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund, aimed at rapid recruitment of Shared Lives carers across the UK. Helen Whately, Minister of State for Social Care, said: “The pandemic has shown us the increased need for social care which offers more freedom, independence and choices and enables people to strengthen relationships which are so vital to our mental and physical health.

“I’m delighted that Shared Lives Plus, under the extraordinary pressure of the pandemic, with the support of government’s Covid Emergency Fund, has ambitiously transformed the way local authority and independent Shared Lives schemes recruit and assess potential carers supported by online technology, to provide innovative Shared Lives support in their own home. Shared Lives services, funded by our Covid Emergency Fund have exceeded their ambitious recruitment targets. A huge thank you to everyone involved and for all you do. I’m delighted to welcome 200 new Shared Lives carers, over the last six months, into the social care workforce, with over 100 people moving in with their new Shared Lives carer and benefiting from the safest and best quality form of social care available. The opportunity now that I really want to support, is to scale it up so that even more people can be part of Shared Lives households.”

Laura, who lives with her Shared Lives carer, asked the Minister a question. Here’s Laura’s question and Helen’s answer:

Care minister Helen Whateley MP meets Shared Lives households – Shared Lives Plus

Carry on doing the right thing

There have been another two ‘gig economy’ court cases. In the latest, Hermes was found to be employing delivery drivers it had tried to class as self-employed . Each time there is a case of this kind I get enquiries about the implications for Shared Lives, as Shared Lives carers are self-employed. On one level, there are no implications, because every court case so far has found companies not giving workers the rights, choices and autonomy of genuine self-employment, whereas the extensive legal advice we have taken has consistently found that, done properly, Shared Lives roles are self-employed, partly because people choose who to work with, and work from home with a high level of autonomy, rather than in tightly-prescribed or micro-managed roles.

Each of these court cases though, does reinforce the importance of following the national guidance on Shared Lives. Shared Lives organisations can’t have it both ways, as one or two have tried in the past: wanting all the value of what Shared Lives carers and their families bring, including the unpaid contributions people will make to someone’s life if they see them not as a ‘client’ or ‘customer’ but ‘one of the family’, but also wanting to manage Shared Lives carers more tightly than the role – and the law – allows. There is a reason Shared Lives carers are recruited so carefully over three to six months and then helped to find mutually compatible matches: it’s to ensure that the local organisation has a high degree of trust in them, knowing they have the right motivations to do the best for the person living or staying with them, not just ‘working to the contract’.

I wrote about this last year and came to the conclusion that whilst the law is complex (and each organisation must take its own expert advice), the best way to approach staying on the right side of employment regulations in Shared Lives is to keep things simple: recruit the right people then trust them and treat them fairly, in other words, do the right thing.

The more I do for people the better life is for me.

This guest blog is the speech that my colleague Michael, one of our Ambassadors who has lived experience of using Shared Lives, gave to the School for Social Care Research conference with two other Ambassadors, James and Paul. The speech is about what being a peer researcher meant to him, but Michael also says something we should all listen to, about the value of his work to him and those he works with. Thanks Michael!

Hello I’m Michael

I am Shared Lives ambassador for Shared Lives Plus and I have been working as a peer researcher with the University of Kent.

The research project is about finding out what people who live with Shared Lives carers think about the support they get.

My colleagues James and Paul have talked about what we did and how we did it. I would like to talk about how the project has affected me personally.

When I went to do the first interview with two people and their carer I was having a really tough time personally.

Doing the interview gave me such a lift. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt. You are all probably used to it.

I think it is easy to forget how people you work with can help to cheer you up. Just going to work can make you feel so good about yourself.

I think this might depend on the job though.

I have loved everything about this work. The travelling has helped me become more independent now, this feels good to be honest.  I can do a bit more now and I don’t have to rely on anyone. When I go somewhere with other staff members I can show them what to do.

I can do this because I am confident. I am not worrying because I know exactly what to do.

In the past I would have been anxious – worried.  I think I would have been worked up. Not sure how to describe this.

I think if you want to involve people and really involve people so they are doing a proper job same as everyone in the team you have to do certain things such as:

You have to give people time

You have to be organised.

You have to be easy to contact.

You have to get back to people quickly.

You have to do what you say you will do.

Most important is that you really believe in what we are doing and that you give us chances.

As we find out we can do something, we get more confident and we want to do more, then you need to ask us to do more so we can keep on  growing.

The more I have done the more better I have felt. The more I do for people the better life is for me. I think I am more better at helping other people than myself.

From doing this I have learned that to look after myself and to look after my feelings the type of work I need to do is all about helping other people to make their lives better. This helps me to cope with my life and my world when I am having a tough time.

I know Lyn who is my boss in Shared Lives Plus gets a big lift from working with me and the other ambassadors.

I didn’t really understand this at first until I experienced it myself.

For example, to do this job. Getting to know Nadia and Sinead and Grace and the other researchers has been good. How we did it is, we met up first and Lyn was there and all tried to get to know each other and started work a step at a time.  This was helpful to me. I didn’t feel under pressure. I knew that they would do it at the right pace and if I was struggling I could just talk to them about it.

This meant when I was doing the actual interviews I was ready. I didn’t need Lyn. I just met with Grace and it was just lovely to be honest because I was able to work with someone else.  I didn’t have to just rely on my boss I was able to work with other people.

To be honest it was more like focussing on the job really and making sure the people I was interviewing and the carers were happy.

Don’t get me wrong. Support is important to me.  Without the support I would struggle. The support has been lovely. It has taken away the pressure so I can just focus on the job.

And that is what everyone has done to enable me to learn how to be a peer researcher.

If the story was about a Disney character. It would be the story of Ariel from the little mermaid. This is because she goes on a journey and she learns about herself and everyone else learns something too.

Everyone has got something out of it. We have learned from the researchers, they have learned plenty from us and we have worked well as a team. The people we have interviewed have been pleased with us because they have had their voices heard.

It was better for them to be interviewed by us because they can see we are like them.  If they get interviewed just by professionals it can be worrying and frightening and scary. Like having a review or something. To have it from someone like me I think helped them to speak up more. I think as well that people seeing people like us doing a job like this absolutely made them feel more confident in what they could do too.

Thank you for listening.

Which group are you in?

I’m part of a working group on the Social Integration Commission (hosted by the Challenge Network and chaired overall by Matthew Taylor of RSA), which is looking at the ways in which we mix with people different from ourselves, and whether that mixing or lack of it has an impact on people and the communities they live in. People mixing with other people, whom they might not otherwise have met, is at the heart of Shared Lives and Homeshare. Both also help people who need support to mix with others in their communities, in ways which many other forms of support either don’t address, or in the case of some building-based services, actively prevent. They make this possible by avoiding seeing the individual only in terms of their support needs and instead seeing them as someone with lots to offer to others (“He/She is just part of the family” is a common Shared Lives carer refrain). A great way to help us to stop dividing the world into groups of people who need support and groups of people who provide it, is to celebrate the work of people who, like many of us, have at different times been part of both groups.

With this in mind, I asked our members recently for examples of Shared Lives carers who have drawn on their own lived experience of health issues or using services. Sandra who runs the Herefordshire Shared Lives scheme kindly got in touch about two Shared Lives carers who wanted to share their stories. Sheila felt it was important throughout the process of applying to be a Shared Lives carer to talk about her own mental health issues some years ago. Sheila now uses her extensive life skills and experience, including her experiences of mental ill health, to help others who have mental health problems. Sheila feels that loneliness and the lack of support will often be the major contributor to the person having a mental health episode.  Her own experiences have helped her to develop her expertise in recognising mental health issues and helping people to maintain their mental health, with feeling comfortable in acknowledging and talking about the issues surrounding mental health a crucial part of what Sandra describes as Sheila’s “outstanding practice of non-judgmental support” to the people who visit or live in her household.

Helen, another Shared Lives carer in Hereford had breast cancer some years ago, from which she has now recovered. She lives with Jenny, who needed a lot of support with a longstanding OCD and other challenges, following a close bereavement. Jenny has had many new experiences through living with Helen, amongst her favourite being walking on sand and seeing the sea. Jenny’s OCD left her with a fear of preparing food, but she now helps Helen, who used to be a professional cook with the police force, in preparing teas for the police cricket team in the summer. Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Helen was able to explain a lot from her own as a cancer survivor.  This was reassuring to Jenny and her whole family as they faced treatment, which was traumatic but successful.

Shared Lives is far from unique in examples of this kind, but the Shared Lives approval process is very values-focused, and perhaps more ready to value lived experience, which can be hard to do if your profession or organisation sees the ‘ideal’ attitude as being one of impeccably-boundaried professional detachment. So in our work developing Shared Lives for groups of people who are stigmatised, such as people with mental health problems, and who often lack formal qualifications, such as offenders, there is the really exciting potential to recruit many more Shared Lives carers with lived experience, and helping people from those groups both with getting more effective and less stigmatizing support, and with tackling the employment barriers they face as they move on.

“It gives me a good feeling inside”

This year’s Shared Lives Plus conference was co-chaired by Paul Croft, who lives in a Shared Lives household and Richard Jones, a Director of Adult Services and one of our trustees. This is what Paul told the conference – he has kindly given me permission to re-print it here:

 “Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  I would just like to say how pleased I am to be here and would like to thank John Dickinson for asking me to Chair this conference.  I think it is a great honour and am delighted to be talking to you now.

I would like to tell you just a little bit about myself and how my life has changed since I joined Shared Lives and moved to Waterloo, just a few miles from here, to live with Geoff my carer with PSS and Bob who Geoff also cares for.

I was at Derwen College in Shropshire at the time and lived there in term time studying catering and office management.  At first I went to Geoff’s in the holidays.  I really enjoyed being at college but we were supervised most of the time and had very little independence. 

When I first went to stay with Geoff my care plan said that I wasn’t allowed to access the community without someone being with me.  I remember wishing I could be like Bob, who was a train driver before his brain injury and would go off regularly visiting places round the country.  At that time I even had to be taken to college at the end of holidays even though I had made the journey many times.

Geoff realised that my life was being restricted because of this and so we started to work on this problem.

I began by posting letters at the end of our street and then going to the shops and bank on my own.  We went out together on longer journeys but when I felt ready we decided that it was time to go on the train on my own.  The station is only 5 minutes from where we live.  I have a very good sense of direction and had no problem going places on the train and also learned to use the bus. Geoff and I have discussed this and both feel this was the real turning point in my life.

When I moved into Geoff’s permanently Continue reading

Blossoming Forth in Middlesborough

Writing this on my way home from an event in Middlesborough run by our colleagues at Community Catalysts, which brought together people running, supporting or just generally interested in micro-enterprises. (There will be similar events in Sheffield and Bristol).

We heard from Chaz and Joanne, two parents who have set up Blossom Forth, a micro-enterprise which helps meet families’ specialist childcare needs, whilst also creating employment opportunities for parents who themselves have disabled children. Joanne explained that parents of disabled children often struggle to find childcare which can meet their child’s needs and are wary of relying on childminders who have no experience of disabilities or specific training. Blossom Forth teamed up with Tyneside Met College to provide a group of parents with training on everything from confidence, to disability awareness and time management. Some of the parents lacked confidence: as Chaz put it, “I felt very isolated and although I’d left school with 12 GCSEs and four A Levels, my goals took a back burner when I had kids and I didn’t trust other people to look after my eldest son who has additional needs. The course showed me that I can be more than only a parent.” Chaz is training to be able to provide childcare to disabled children, which will be her route back into employment but will also help her to support parents who are struggling with many of the challenges of which she has personal experience. Joanne and her colleagues have high hopes for Blossom Forth and bags of the faith and energy which all successful entrepreneurs need: “We didn’t have any start-up money or people with the right qualifications. Community Catalysts found us a solution which was to run initially as a service introducing parents to childminders and to do some market testing. I’ve no doubt that we will become a successful enterprise.”

Developing Shared Lives holidays and breaks

We are really pleased that we have been awarded Department of Health funding to develop a way of offering Shared Lives as holidays and breaks to people across local authority boundaries, in different areas of the country. There are Shared Lives carers who can provide short breaks living in seaside towns, national parks and in the heart of large cities. Others may live in areas which someone would like to visit because they have family there. The new scheme will mean that people will be able to look at an online catalogue to find out whether there is an approved Shared Lives carer in the area in which they would like to take a break or holiday. We will develop ways of Shared Lives schemes working together to ensure that the right matching and safeguarding processes are carried out before the break. These holidays will be a much cheaper and more homely alternative to visiting an expensive residential facility and we expect that some people will want to return to visit the same family year after year.

We are recruiting for a twelve-month project development worker to work with Shared Lives carers and schemes to develop matching, safeguarding, inter-scheme working and payment policies to enable safe and affordable Shared Lives arrangements to take place across county boundaries. The advert is here.

Setting the pace in Derby

Promote Ability Community Enterprise, known as p.a.c.e, is a community interest company set up by Debbie Jones and Craig Fletcher.  Through their 23 years of experience of front line work for the City Council and nine years working with voluntary and community organisations they felt there was a gap in services for disabled people to improve their health and quality of life choices.

From the seed of the idea, developed whilst sitting in the pub, along with donations, a helpful benefactor, support from friends, family and the community and a lot of hard work they now have a centre, with a gym, workshop and café.  They have over 20 clients per week, both self-funders or personal budget holders who buy assistance with support planning, life coaching, woodwork tuition and gym instruction from the three full time workers. Also their café is open to the public.

In the future they are eager to move towards rehabilitation services and are looking to work with local health services to develop preventative and re-enablement support. Find out more about them at:

Alternatives to PAs

In my blog below, I outlined some pernicious myths about personalisation. One of them is that personalisation is all about giving people Direct Payments, usually to employ a Personal Assistant (PA). This myth is important: if we don’t address it, it has the potential to do real damage to the goals of personalisation, which are that people will have a real choice of how they are supported and by whom and that they will be able to build a life where they feel in control and like they belong.

We are seeing an increasing number of cases where an individual is supported by a Personal Assistant (PA), but does not want the responsibilities of being an employer. Sometimes individuals and PAs are encouraged to treat the relationship as one in which the PA is self-employed, in order to avoid the budget holder having to take on the tax and employment liabilities of being an employer.

This is dangerous. The Revenue have pursued disabled people for thousands in unpaid National Insurance contributions and tribunals have found that people who were treated as self-employed were nevertheless employees, entitled to sick pay, holiday pay and so on. Cases like these add the perception of personalisation as risky and badly thought out. There are three things we need to do to address this situation Continue reading

Dragons return to West Wales

Helen and Tony Woodman are carers with West Wales Adult Placement (Shared Lives) Scheme. Thanks to the work of the Scheme and funding from the council, the people who visit Helen and Tony’s home in the peaceful Cych Valley, Pembrokeshire have the opportunity to create works of art that are sited in prominent positions around Carmarthenshire. These include The Boars marking the gateway into Ammanford, The Drover Sculptures in a busy shopping area in Carmarthen and two Dragons, one welcoming visitors to Carmarthen and the other guarding the gateway to Newcastle Emlyn Castle, which legend says was the place the last dragon of Wales was slain. This latest project was the work of service users, Craig Jenkins and Wyn Havard from Pembrokeshire and Jean John and Rhian Evans from Carmarthenshire.

In addition to creating the dragon, all involved in the project have had the opportunity to make something that they have designed and made for themselves.  Rhian says “I drew out the design for a door stop and I will make that next.  I like coming here to work with Tony.  He is fun to work with.” Another participant said, “I have enjoyed seeing the dragon grow each week and also lunch break when we can all have a chat around the table.”  Craig is now beginning a work training placement in a woodwork company.

Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister at the Welsh Assembly Government came to admire the dragon and met everybody involved. She said, “I have been extremely impressed by what I have learnt and I am very humbled by the work of the carers.”