Learn Opinion social care

Reimagining society, reimagining care

Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE is the Bishop of London and the Lead Bishop for Health and Social Care in the House of Lords. She was previously the Chief Nursing Officer for England.  Here she explains the role of society in enabling everybody to live a good life

How could we develop a vision for care and support which enables everyone – regardless of age or ability – to flourish?

This was the question the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care sought to answer in a report published in January 2023. The Commission outlined a vision of the future which would reimagine the way that social care is thought about, organised, and delivered. Doing so requires us to lift our eyes and raise our aspirations.

As the name suggests, the Commission was established by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Whilst the expert panel of Commissioners comprised of people of different faiths and none, there was a particular focus on understanding social care through the prism of Christian theology, tradition and values. You may not be surprised that I believe there is great richness in approaching social care in this way. At the heart of our faith is a belief that every single human being is of innate value and dignity, not because of what we do or contribute, but because we have been created in the image of God. We believe that God dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death and resurrection, we are shown a radical way of understanding what it means to be human. We are created for a purpose infinitely larger than ourselves.

What difference does it make to explore social care from this perspective?

First, it helps us to think about the nature and purpose of a good life. Desmond Tutu, the great racial justice and reconciliation pioneer of South Africa, spoke often of the principle of Ubuntu, which is best described as follows: I am, because we are; my humanity is caught up with your humanity. At the heart of Ubuntu is the belief that we all need each other; that my flourishing depends on yours; that yours depends on mine.

A good life does not depend on each of us gaining more independence. Of course we want to see people who draw on care and support enjoying as much freedom to do the things that bring joy, fulfilment and purpose as anyone else – in the words of a House of Lords report, ‘a gloriously ordinary life’. But none of us are truly independent. We saw starkly just how much we rely on one another during the pandemic, when we were dependent on the generosity of neighbours, the dedication of key workers, the skill of medical professionals. We all have needs – emotional, physical and spiritual – which are often most helpfully met when we cherish our interdependence in pursuit of a good life together. Our approach to social care should be based on the principle that we need one another, not caring for the vulnerable out of pity or charity.

Second, it enables us to move beyond the idea of society as an abstract construct. We are society. Therefore, the question is not about the role of society in enabling people to live the good life, but of what we each will do with and for the people around us. We must recognise our shared stake in getting this right. There is an important role for national government, ensuring that social care reform is a priority at a time of limited resources, providing the vision and investment to ensure that people can access what they need. Trying to support the government to do this work is what those involved in the Commission will continue to do.

But reimagining care is a shared endeavour, requiring everyone to play our part by loving our neighbour and committing to nurturing communities of warmth and authentic participation, so that we can each experience the full life for which we were created.




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