Right on the Money

“My mother has been lonely for 35 years, but no longer since she has been Homesharing. The scheme in Oxford needs to be more widely publicised so that more people can benefit” Daughter of Householder. Shared Lives Plus Friends and Family Survey 2017

In Homeshare, two people who would not normally meet each other are helped to get to know each other and become housemates. Usually an older person who has a spare room and who wants a little help around the house or some companionship is matched with a younger person who is looking for somewhere affordable to live. When a good match is found, the younger person moves in and contributes to the bills but instead of paying rent, agrees to provide a little help with, for instance, household tasks which the older person is starting to find difficult. With funding from Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund, we are working with local Homeshare organisations and national partners including Age UK to bring Homeshare to many more people.

Although Homeshare does not attempt to provide personal care to its older participants, Homeshare is often thought of as a way for a ‘vulnerable’ older person to get support and as a way to tackle loneliness in later life.

In reality, it’s more complicated than that. Research by the Co-operative and the British Red Cross has identified that loneliness can affect people of all ages. For instance, the report identified that nearly a third of young new Mums experienced significant loneliness at a challenging time in their lives. North London Cares and South London Cares, which also brings younger and older people together, found that people in their early twenties were the second loneliest group, after older people. Anouck, coming to England from her native France to live for the first time, lived with Doreen and their Homeshare arranged by PossAbilities in Rochdale is featured on BBC’s Right on the Money on Wednesday 19th July. For Anouck, Homeshare with Doreen was about much more than accommodation; it was the ‘nest’ to return to each evening and a way to get involved in local activities, with Doreen who also got out and more involved in local life than she had in a life which had been very home-based as an unpaid carer to family members for many years.

doreen and anouck
Doreen and Anouck

Just as we can all experience loneliness at different times in our lives, we can all become ‘vulnerable’. The careful selection and safeguarding procedures of Homeshare organisations have been developed in recognition of the particular concerns many older people may have about house-sharing, but the model avoids applying a blanket ‘vulnerable’ label to everyone over 65, or assuming that no younger person ever feels vulnerable. This puts Homeshare organisations in an unusual place for a charity (but a very normal one for, say, a dating service or a commercial home-sharing service such as AirBnB), which is recognising that there can be risks in sharing a home, and enabling two people (and often, their families) to understand them and manage them, but not trying to take over: the participants ultimately decide whether to take part and with whom, and they develop their own version of the standard Homeshare agreement, and taking responsibility for it, with the local Homeshare organisation on hand if they run into difficulty.

This approach has a strong safety track record but also creates space for the only real cure for loneliness, which isn’t in the end a volunteer or even a befriending project (useful as those approaches can be): it’s a friend.

I love that I am helping my householder and knowing that I am having a positive impact on her happiness. I love the stories that she shares with me of her life and experiences.”.  Homesharer. Shared Lives Plus Householder and Homesharer Survey 2017

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Shared Lives is never closed for Christmas.

The Campaign to End Loneliness has been doing great work highlighting the issue of loneliness for older people. A BBC survey showed that loneliness affects 7% of people of all ages and the BBC had a a day of programming on loneliness on Friday 12 December called ‘A Life Less Lonely’, which also had a dedicated web site.

People with learning disabilities are particularly likely to be lonely. Even for people who on paper would be regarded as living independently and well in the community, loneliness, hate and ‘mate’ crime are common, with loneliness one of the factors contributing to people’s vulnerability to these kinds of crime. One in four people with learning disabilities lack a best friend (Loneliness and Cruelty, Lemos and Crane).

Christmas of course can be a particularly difficult day, when people who are not in touch with their family feel that loss acutely, whilst services and activities are closed. Many others will only see people paid to be with them on Christmas day.

Why is loneliness so far down so many services’ agendas? Why is it something which few commissioners require services to tackle? It’s partly about money: when services are increasingly being asked to provide support for fewer and fewer hours per week, or at a smaller and smaller hourly rate (below minimum wage many have argued), how could those services tackle problems like loneliness?

But more deeply, it’s about our view of what support is for and what it can achieve. Services provide physical care; they can also offer guidance and advice. All of these things are provided within professional, boundaried transactions. Friendship – the only cure for loneliness – is not professionally boundaried. Professional support is provided by people who need nothing from us; the ‘needy’ professional is a professional who is failing to be effective, impartial, detached. Friendship is the opposite: it is only truly provided by people who need us in return. Befriending projects can provide a valuable stop-gap for loneliness (the loneliness equivalent of food banks in the words of Community Links), but it is only friendship which, at the most social times of day and week and year, will be there most, rather than there least.

It’s also about a failure to understand risk and the way that risk assessments clarify certain types of risk and obfuscate others. For most of us, the prospect of being lonely long-term would be terrifying. But when it comes to offering social care to adults and older people, we fail at this most basic level of empathy, despite it being called ‘social’ care, despite all the training to the contrary, because the systems and organisations we work within make it so hard to see risk and opportunity from the perspective of the individual, not the organisation.

I was with a group of people with learning disabilities recently who were able to organise to see each other and plan a festive Christmas day. It was nice to see, but inescapable that they are sadly in the minority. So in 2015, Shared Lives Plus will keep our focus as much on friendship and love, as we do on sound and safe support. That way more people will be able to choose to share their lives with a Shared Lives carer who sees them as ‘just part of the family’. Shared Lives is never closed for Christmas.

When is Shared Lives just shared living?

Here in the Shared Lives sector we’re used to confusing the people whose job is to fund or purchase social care for the local council or NHS Trust. Shared Lives doesn’t fit the usual boxes, it’s not funded quite in the normal way, it has different boundaries and expectations, and so on.

At a recent meeting wiht the researchers at Kent and LSE Universities (the PSSRU unit) who are beginning to research the outcomes and costs of providing Shared Lives to older people, we started to discuss the small but perhaps growing number of older people who don’t have eligible social care needs (ie needs which the council will pay to have met), but who are interested in living as part of a family.

Some have arrived at the Shared Lives service via a mental health service because living in isolation has resulted in depression. Others simply don’t like the idea of continuing to live alone in a large house with family at a distance and are planning for a future when they be less independent. They have the option of selling their large house to move into sheltered accommodation, but aren’t sure that is what they are looking for. Continue reading