Rebuilding communities and rebuilding social care are deeply linked challenges

This article appeared on the Social Care Institute for Excellence website on 25 May here. (I’m a SCIE Trustee.)

The focus of the first weeks of the crisis was on sustaining hospitals. It was a difficult, complex but clear challenge and it was met. As it became clearer that the virus had swiftly found social care’s most vulnerable services and was sweeping through people living in care homes in particular, politicians and planners have tried to bring into focus the much more fractured picture of social care services, which range from large nursing homes, through community support services and homecare, to individuals organising their own teams of Personal Assistants. We found out what we were good at: building huge hospitals in a matter of days is an incredible achievement. And what we are not good at: identifying where deeply entrenched inequalities in our communities will meet inequalities in our public services and create human tragedies.

There was a widely-shared photograph of the head doctor at the London Nightingale Hospital waiting for his first patient at a lighted door in a vast metal shutter. It’s a heroic image. Of course, the Nightingales, fortunately, remained almost unused as the daunting acute care challenge was largely met. There are few images of the thousands of people who died unnoticed in care homes, much less those isolated at home who were visited by untested and poorly equipped social care workers. It is hard to take a picture of the vast number of small, spontaneous acts of kindness that have happened within Mutual Aid and other grassroots community groups, and we may never know their contribution to keeping people alive and hopeful.

There is already talk of big, structural change post COVID-19. It will be tempting to do what we were good at during the peak of the crisis, but what we need in the next phase and beyond is unlikely to revolve around easily-defined service delivery challenges which can be achieved by a small group of heroes.

Support people need in the place where they live

As much as we will need our hospitals and medical facilities to recover and thrive, we will need a wider support system that enables people to live safely and well at home. That is where the safety and wellbeing of older and disabled people has always been found, and the current crisis has just brought home how important it is for people to be able to get the support they need – formal and informal – in the place where they live. For many people facing an extended period of isolation and the risks that will bring to their mental health, the role of friends, neighbours and – socially distanced – family will feel increasingly important.

The virus has brutally exposed many of the weaknesses in our social care system. But it has also highlighted an abundance of caring within our communities. We have a stronger desire to help each other than we realised: three quarters of a million people volunteered to help the NHS and social care before the programme had to be paused while the system tried to catch up. We have more creativity than we knew: people and organisations finding a million ways to offer their help, knowledge or skills to others, often for free. What we’ve found does not, of course, begin to balance out the devastating impact of the things our services lack, let alone the people we have lost.

Both formal and informal needed

And those good things are no more evenly distributed than the deaths and the shortages, exacerbating already deep-rooted inequalities. But given how difficult the coming months (and years) will be, we must make everything we can of what we’ve found, and what people have offered to give.

Social care is rooted in an attempt to bring together the formal and the informal: the social as well as the care. We know that people will not live safely and well where one or both are absent, or cannot work together: the large impersonal institution where there is support but community is kept at arm’s length; the isolated home where an individual endures hours without human contact.

So, we need a renewed drive towards living at home, or where that is not possible, a place which feels small and personal enough to feel like home. We can no longer tolerate people of any age living long-term in big, impersonal institutions. We must see the connections which people are making with each other, in all of their humanity, diversity and messiness, as being as crucial to the next phase as the smoothly-running hospital was to the first. And if we are to see people stepping forward to connect with people who use or live in support services, they will need to be able to feel a shared sense of ownership of those services: community as a mode of ownership, not just community as a ‘setting’. Put bluntly, few people want to volunteer for a large profit-making business owned somewhere offshore. If we want people to continue to step up, connect and be generous, they must be offered a greater sense of ownership and real relationships in return.

Look to the community

Neighbourhood level care organisations have already shown they can reach tens of thousands, like the famous Dutch Buurtzorg dementia support service with its self-managing community teams, or Shared Lives which reaches 14,000 disabled and older people through a family-based support model which behaves like a franchise in every way except for the fact that no one owns it, nor profits from it. We have seen these community-rooted organisations proving adaptable in the face of COVID-19, using online technology to create and sustain connections which are traditionally carried out face-to-face. The Shared Lives sector is seeking investment in an unprecedented modernisation of its recruitment and matching processes to ensure they can carry on during lockdown, and that the home-based support model can be a much bigger part of a pandemic-proof and sustainable future.

The crisis is still peaking and the bleakest news from the social care sector is yet to come out, as we start to understand the scale of what has happened, but not yet been counted. Many smaller provider organisations are already staring at bankruptcy. But we cannot wait until the crisis has passed to start building the future. We must start now.

Lost and found

Here is an extract from my new blog for the Royal Society of Arts here

In the social care sector, we are currently all too aware of what we don’t have.

We still lack adequate protective clothing for workers doing the most important jobs.

We still lack people in key roles – like the social care workers who until a few weeks ago were ‘unskilled’, but are now the heroes we applaud from our doorsteps each week.

We still lack virus tests, which means we lack the knowledge we need to keep people safe. Individually, many of us lack money because people are losing paid work. We lack social contact, freedom, green spaces, hugs. (and pasta.)

The things we lack are causing hardship and hopelessness. We are also finding some things we didn’t realise we had.

We have new friendships, and support where we weren’t expecting it, as thousands of grassroots mutual aid groups have sprung up.

We have a stronger desire to help each other than we realised: three quarters of a million people volunteered to help the NHS and social care before the programme had to be paused while the system tried to catch up.

We have more creativity than we knew: people and organisations finding a million ways to offer their help, knowledge or skills to others, often for free.

What we’ve found does not, of course, begin to balance out the devastating impact of the things we lack, let alone the people we have lost.

And those good things are no more evenly distributed than the deaths and the shortages, exacerbating already deep-rooted inequalities. But given how difficult the coming weeks (and years) will be, we must make everything we can of what we’ve found, and what people have offered to give.

This moment of people stepping forward and reaching out to each other will pass very quickly. Without action, it could be replaced by something much bleaker in the hard years to come.

The story of the next few weeks will, I believe, be of the NHS doing better than feared.

But the challenges within social care will be brutally exposed. Particularly where three problems are found together: lack of money, lack of central planning or strategy, and buildings which house too many people in close contact.

We will rebuild our social care services after this. But surely we cannot want to reconstruct the broken systems which contributed to us being here?

I believe that building better systems should be based on three closely linked principles:

  • A renewed drive towards living at home, or a place which feels like home
  • Formal support combined with community connection
  • Care organisations controlled and run at the neighbourhood level

For more on how these will work together, read the full blog: https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-blogs/2020/04/social-care-reform

Whatever it takes

The original assumptions in planning for COVID-19 in the UK were that a very large number of people would get it. It was known at that time that it was deadly for many older and disabled people. Presumably the plan was to keep older and disabled people, particularly hundreds of thousands of older people who receive social care, safe from infection. That could only ever have been done through a massive programme of safety equipment (PPE) and testing. That we are still playing catch-up on PPE and only a tiny number of the people who care for older and disabled people have been tested, gives the impression that as a nation we have abandoned a whole section of society to this illness. Nearly 1,000 people a day are dying in hospital, but we don’t even know how many are dying in care homes – don’t they count?

The government has, quite rightly, said it will do ‘whatever it takes’ to keep the NHS going through COVID-19. This isn’t just a message from Health ministers but from the Chancellor and the PM. We have not yet heard ‘whatever it takes’ to keep social care going. Put another way, we need the government to say, from the top down, ‘We will do whatever it takes to keep older and disabled people alive’.

Sharing lives and self-isolating

Across the UK, thousands of Shared Lives households are at home as self-isolation becomes mandatory. This means that disabled people, people with mental health problems and others who need significant support are living in a safe place with their Shared Lives carer and for many, this is the safest place they could be. Unlike other services which rely on a staff rota, no one need come in and out of the home and the household can be more resilient and less disrupted by self-isolation than services which lose workers who are self-isolating but currently unable to get tested.

We also know that Shared Lives households are under pressure:

  1. 80% of Shared Lives carers are over 50 and 20% are over 70 and themselves in the at-risk group.
  2. Usually, Shared Lives should not be 24/7 care, but at the moment it is: this can mean huge pressure on households as routines are disrupted and there is no break from caring for someone who is distressed and whose behaviour may be difficult to manage.
  3. Like others, Shared Lives households are largely without protective equipment (PPE) and facing shortages of basics and food caused by panic buying.
  4. As short breaks and day support services are cancelled, many self-employed Shared Lives carers are without income, and the government has not yet addressed this for the self-employed. This also means there are Shared Lives carers with capacity to do more and who want to help. We’ve had members wanting to open their homes to patients and NHS staff.

At Shared Lives Plus, our team moved quickly to 100% home working and online and have been working flat out on two priorities for our members: inform and connect. People need the right information – not always easy when most government info has been unclear, incomplete or has needed to be corrected. Not helped by government making a drastic u-turn in its strategy (which was the right thing to do: their modelling turned out to be wrong) but then telling people nothing had really changed: far better to have been clear that the strategy had changed and why. Connection will be of growing importance the longer this situation continues.

We are addressing the four pressure points above:

  1. We have issued guidance for local organisations on identifying and prioritising the households most at risk, mitigating risks where possible and planning for possible scenarios, including infections within the home and Shared Lives carers being unable to care. We have outlined fast-tracked procedures to get new support carers approved.
  2. The key message from our guidance on supporting Shared Lives households under pressure is to help the household build its resilience and two kinds of connections: with other Shared Lives households and with neighbours. We are aiming to get a new Positive Behaviour Support advice service up and running shortly if we can resource it. We’re helping members share what’s working and the team are taking calls where people are struggling.
  3. We have been ensuring that Shared Lives carers, and community care services more generally, are being considered along with other social care services, for PPE and giving practical advice. The UK’s failure to plan for PPE demand mystifies me and has left thousands of the people we rely on most at unnecessary risk. This appears to be being rectified, but local problems are still huge. We’ve written to all the supermarkets explaining what Shared Lives carers and Homesharers are why they need access to food.
  4. Government announcements are imminent about support for the self-employed. In the meantime, our advice to Shared Lives schemes has been: do everything you can to support your Shared Lives carers. We will need everyone during this crisis and in the recession which will follow it. Councils have been given funding to support stability in the social care sector, and the good ones are using it to keep providers afloat and social care workers in this vital workforce. We are supporting Shared Lives schemes to identify their spare capacity and consider how Shared Lives carers who are not currently working can safely support households who are struggling, and respond where possible to the need to discharge thousands of people from hospital. Virus testing, adequate PPE and ensuring people and organisations are working as part of one team will be vital in making this work.

I’d like to thank the 10,000 Shared Lives households and 500 Homeshare households who are contributing so much to keeping people safe and well during this crisis, and the Shared Lives Plus team who have made me so proud to work for such a great charity these past couple of weeks.

James and Bronte
James and Bronte digging vegetables at home, taken by Shared Lives carer Andy

How would we know?

If an area becomes ‘asset-based’ in everything it does, how would you know? You would expect to see everyone – public services and charities; citizens and people with power – thinking, speaking and behaving differently. This is the second of three blogs written with the Chair of Think Local, Act Personal, Clenton Farquharson MBE, and available in full here. Last time, we revisited the Asset-Based Area (ABA) model which tried to distil down how an area can become asset-based in everything it does from strategy down to the grassroots, into ten actions, starting with mapping your local assets, and including sharing power with people who are usually excluded, and building a diverse range of community approaches which are now gathered in an online catalogue. Three years after the original thinking, we are developing the ABA model in more detail through the Social Care Innovation network.

In this blog, we want to think about how we would know that an area had become asset-based. What would we measure and how?

Greater Manchester has adopted use of system activity measures collected every quarter, combined with a range of personal outcome measures collected locally across the city region. These include measures already well-established across public services, such as health outcomes, measures of demand and cost, and wellbeing outcomes: recognising that wellbeing – living a good life in a good home and a welcoming community – is intertwined with more clinical outcomes.

Key Human Indicators

Many areas and organisations have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Perhaps every area needs Key Human Indicators. Are people achieving wellbeing? That usually means that people who need support are able to experience the right balance of independence and connection for them, which will change at different times in their lives. For workers and systems, KHIs will include warmth, kindness (as set out in Julia Unwin’s brilliant report) and dignity. Networks can be more important than bureaucratic service structures. In Shared Lives, friendships are seen as key indicators of wellbeing, so Shared Lives Plus’ national outcomes measuring tool asks participants how many friends they have and whether Shared Lives support is helping them make and sustain those connections, or getting in the way.

Read the rest of this blog on the Social Care Institute for Excellence website, in the Social Care Innovation Network’s minisite.

Best days

Chris and Peter were matched together by Moray Shared Lives in Scotland. Chris is a retired farmer who wanted to give people the chance to benefit from visiting his land and the woodlands he has planted. He was approved by Shared Lives Moray to take on the Shared Lives role and then matched with Peter, who visits for day support twice a week. Peter has dementia and lives at home where he is cared for by his wife. The two four or five hour sessions a week with Chris give everyone time to re-charge their batteries and lead a life beyond giving and receiving care. You can see and hear the two men talk about their Shared Life here

 

The film was made after Peter had recently lost his ability to walk following an adverse

reaction to prescription drugs. The time that Chris has, combined with the opportunities he provides for walking regularly, helped Peter recover his ability to walk, which has enabled him to continue to live in his own home and community. Without the time and support given by Chris, Peter is likely to have been placed in a residential care home or provided with 24 hour paid carers in his own home. In both cases his life would have diminished significantly and the costs of caring for him would have risen sharply. 

 

Peter is not always as alert and lucid as on the day of filming. Everyone involved believes that the support from Chris brings Peter some of his best days.

Government funds our innovation network

We’re excited to be part of a partnership led by the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the Think Local, Act Personal network, to help local areas scale innovative community-based approaches to social care. This builds on the partners work which has developed models and guides on how to take a whole-area, whole-system approach to innovation, getting away from endless small-scale, short-term pilots which lack ambition. In the current climate where budgets have been slashed and pressures are rising, the most inspiring areas are taking an all-or-nothing approach which recognises that, while initiatives may start small, there must always be a plan to move core resources into the models which work and away from those which don’t. (See Total Transformation, the Asset-Based Area and the family of community-based approaches launched at Social Care Future).

We’ve already had a large number of applications from local areas and from innovative support models and we’ll be building on the 2,000-strong TLAP Building Community Capacity network, which brings together activists, entrepreneurs and organisations working in this space.

Government backing for this initiative is a promising sign that, despite the delays in publishing the Green Paper, the Dept Health and Social Care recognises the need for radical thinking and inspiration for our sector, which is under unprecedented pressure.

Can we escape the invisible asylum?

Since their origins in the Poor Laws, our ideas about helping people have been tangled up with feelings about excluding or punishing them. To become the subject of state support was once to cross a physical threshold: the gates of the workhouse, lunatic asylum or long-stay ‘hospital’ for disabled people. Many of those thresholds have disappeared into folk-memory, but the idea of separating people into those who are citizens of their communities, and those who are wards of the state, remains threaded through our health, care and support services, in ways which have become so familiar they are invisible.

The rules and assumptions of the invisible asylum can be felt in ‘community’ services which feel nothing like community. They start with assessments and means tests which challenge people to prove their level of need, often at the cost of believing in their independence. They are felt in approaches that treat families who have managed on their own for years, as though they are capable only of being ‘difficult’ for the very services which ignored them before they reached crisis point.

This is not to decry the value of our underfunded and undervalued public services. But for our welfare state to survive, we need to be able to see it clearly: the miracles our services can achieve in the operating theatre and their small, devastating failures to see the person underneath the patient’s gown. There was a time when most of us could ignore those failures, hoping that we wouldn’t find ourselves in need of state support, or would need it only for a brief period which we prefer not to think about. But now we live longer lives, with longer periods of ill health, frailty or social isolation. Whether those years – and in many cases decades – in which we need state support will amount to a good life is not solely in the gift of GPs, surgeons or social workers. It depends for most of us on the relationships we have with everyone we rely on: our family and friends, alongside people paid to help us.

So we need models of community support which focus as much on ‘community’ as ‘support’. Working for nearly eight years with the remarkable people involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare has brought into perspective for me the inability of many services to escape the asylums of their origins. I have also witnessed supportive relationships which do not sacrifice the social for the care, which recognise interdependence is as important as independence, and that caring is an emotion before it is an activity.

In my forthcoming book, A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum (Policy Press, February 2018) I outline a possible health and care system which would take the ethos and practices of asset-based and community-orientated support models and build a system and a sustainable economics around them. A system which would demand, measure and pay for the goals – wellbeing, resilience, confident households – we all agree we want, but seem to accept we cannot have. The people who currently shape services have proved themselves incapable of designing approaches to achieve those more human goals. They can only be co-designed with the people who make long term use of services, their families and workers. They would offer us more but would only work if we were prepared to have more asked of us in return.

Those services would be organised at a more personal scale, perhaps eventually eschewing the traditional idea of an organisation entirely, so the book focuses as much on what needs scaling down to human size, as on scaling up the innovations of which we need more. It starts with those failures we should see as inexcusable, yet ignore or dismiss, but it is rooted in the belief that we can and do care for each other, and that the only future for our public services is to create spaces in which people with support needs, families and front line workers can have the relationships we would all wish to have.

You can order A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum from the Policy Press. The launch at Nesta on 28 Feb, which has done so much to support our work, is here. The Northern launch event with Greater Manchester’s Chief Officer Jon Rouse is at MetroPolis on 20th March.

The shelter of each other

Our colleagues and members in Northern Ireland hosted an event for commissioners exploring how Shared Lives could be developed as a new form of short breaks, day support and home from hospital care for older people.

We are grateful to Fionnuala McAndrew of the Health and Social Care Board who helped convene and kick off the day and to Mary Hinds, of the Public Health Agency, who summed up beautifully, drawing on an Irish proverb I’ve not heard before: We live in the shelter of each other.

I’d be willing to bet that that rings true for you as much as it does for me. For years now, the ideal living situation through the eyes of long term care and support services has been independent living. It’s not a bad goal, particularly when contrasted with institutional alternatives. But that language doesn’t tend to figure in our own descriptions of what we dream of, unless or until our independence is at risk. When people describe happiness, for most (admittedly not all) of us, it involves having people  we can rely on. In other words, we dream of interdependence, not complete independence.

This can be an uncomfortable idea for long term support services which are wary of ‘creating dependence’. Few of us would want to be dependent on a service. But perhaps it is not so much that becoming dependent is ‘inappropriate’ to support relationships, but that the way we construct support relationships can be an uncomfortable fit with our naturally interdependent nature. People working in social care often find their roles put strict limitations on the definition of ‘care’ and are too rushed and impersonal to feel ‘social’. This incompatibility between the human nature of both people who give and those who receive long term care is at its most stark when the intimacy of personal care is carried out by a succession of strangers.

Shared Lives is not about dependency in the pejorative sense and for some people it is very much a stepping stone to getting their own place. Half of the people using Shared Lives Continue reading

What could be

Finally, social care is being recognised by our political leaders as vital to our nation’s health and wellbeing. All parties now recognise that ordinary people can be called upon to pay vast amounts towards their care, in contrast to our free-at-the-point-of-need NHS. There is public recognition of what social care is, for the first time. But now we need to visualise what it could be.

Our annual State of Shared Lives Sector reports give a glimpse of a possible future. They have consistently shown that Shared Lives is growing in England, and now we have evidence of new growth in all four home nations. They have also highlighted the difference Shared Lives makes to people’s lives. Many people who might otherwise have lived on their own or in a care home are finding a settled home with their chosen Shared Lives household. Meanwhile, a new group of older people and others who live with their families, but need regular overnight or daytime breaks, get those breaks from visiting their chosen Shared Lives carer, often matched with them because they both enjoy the same activities, rather than struggling with the stress and disruption which more institutionalised breaks services can bring. People live well and sometimes achieve the impossible.

This year our annual report for England (as reported in Community Care) paints both an encouraging and concerning picture. In previous years, Shared Lives has grown strongly, despite the cuts which are shrinking all other forms of social care. The net growth has been about 1000 additional people per year. This year, the number of people using Shared Lives in England has grown by around 580, to just under 12,000 people, around half of whom are living with their Shared Lives carer, and the other half are split between short breaks and daytime support. Look at the numbers of people using Shared Lives by region, however, and it is clear that there is a widening gap between those regions which are accelerating and those which have in previous years been stalled, and are now starting to slip back. So the regions which are growing, have added over 1,100 additional people. Half of this growth comes from the North West, with London and the South West splitting most of the rest. There are signs of growth in the North East, which has been one of the smallest regions and where we are working with directors’ association ADASS and the region’s Shared Lives schemes and partners to create a regional hub. The South East and Yorkshire have seen significant reductions, however, after having previously been regions which were using and developing Shared Lives strongly. The East and West Midlands remain essentially unchanged and the East of England, which has been the smallest region for some time, is now falling. Meanwhile, the model is growing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and we have embarked upon ambitious new programmes in each nation, with strong support from the Wales Government in particular.

With so much news about cuts and the crisis in the NHS, it is easy to believe that the future of public services will just be less of what we have now. But we believe Continue reading