Anna Severwright, Co-convener, Social Care Future
It may sound odd not wanting a good life, but life is more complicated. The ups and downs that we all face weave together into the beautiful tapestry that is our life. But like many disabled and older people my life, opportunities and hopes feel limited due to an extra barrier: lack of the right support.
I have drawn on social care for over 10 years now and in all that time my life felt frozen at 25. Because the professionals I saw mostly focussed on my health or practical needs, so did I. No-one asked me what I wanted from my life to give it meaning or purpose so I felt those were not things I could have or should want anymore. That took a heavy toll on my mental health.
As a result, during the early Covid-19 lockdowns, when everyone was stuck indoors, I felt more a part of society than I had for years. Suddenly nobody could spontaneously pop round to a friend’s house or go out in the evening. They were experiencing more of my reality and our daily lives were suddenly more similar. But lockdown ended, most people went back to their busy lives and I felt left behind again.
So over the last few years I have been slowly trying to change this, remembering the things I used to want from my life before becoming disabled, and reclaim those. But while doing this I have also been trying to change other’s experiences of social care too, in my role as co-convenor the movement Social Care Future and last year being involved in two inquiries looking at the future of social care. The first, called Reimagining Care, saw the Archbishops of York and Canterbury ask a group of commissioners (of which I was one) to look beyond the present situation to what social care should be like in a modern society. The second, a report called ‘A Gloriously Ordinary Life’, was written by the House of Lords Adult Social Care committee (and I was a special advisor to the committee).
Both of these reports were striking in that they took as their starting point people’s lives not systems. They both listened deeply to a broad range of people’s lived experiences and used what they heard to shape the way forward, where too often still today, the voices of people drawing on care are largely absent. The Archbishop’s report talked about everyone being able to flourish in their lives and the House of Lords report used ‘Gloriously Ordinary Lives’ and the Social Care Future vision throughout to describe what social care should enable everyone to be and do. This starting place for debates about reform should be the norm, not the exception.
It is positive that many of the most influential voices in the social care sector are now united behind the Social Care Future vision which starts “We all want to live in the place we call home with the people and things that we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing the things that matter to us.” But the adoption of this vision doesn’t change people’s reality today, often facing cuts to their care or budgets, fighting for basic support or struggling along without any at all.
To make this vision a reality for everyone in society it will take greater investment, a different culture of working where power is shared with people who draw on support, in genuine partnership, and where people have far greater choice and control over their support and their lives. It means strengthening our relationships in communities and connecting us with the things that keep us well, making it easier for people to direct their own support and incubating innovative models of care to support us to live independently in the place we call home.
It also demands that we contend with a deeper, less tangible challenge – social attitudes. Both reports talked about the need to change societies’ attitude to ageing, disability and social care. They placed emphasis on seeing social care as something that affects all of us so that it gets public and political support, and recognising that although at times in our lives we may need some support, we still have things to contribute to our communities and want the same things in our lives. As Social Care Future moves into its next phase, changing the public story of the role and value of social care, and of people who draw on it, will be at the heart of our work.