We need to tell a different story about social care

Paul Burstow – Chair, Social Care Institute for Excellence

Our default narrative about social care is too often one of crisis, fragility, staff shortages and underfunding with vulnerability and neglect thrown in for good measure. Its time change that.

For most people social care is out of sight out of mind.  It is little understood, unlike the NHS there is no spontaneous emotional connection.  A typical sample of the headlines that social care attracts tend to be about the sector talking about itself, even to itself.

This dominant narrative of a broken system has been consistently communicated over a decade or more.  Compared to the NHS, social care is and always has been the poor relation.  We have tested the narrative of crisis to destruction and the result?  Sticking plasters rather than solutions.

During the General Election we will likely see the weaponising of social care with parties competing over how much more they will spend.  But will any of the parties offer up a better future for social care?

For me social care is the means not the end.  The end is how we promote wellbeing, simply put: the things that matter to a person in their everyday life.  There is no place for one size fits all.  It is not just the provision of the most intimate of personal care, it is much more.  It is about having the opportunity whatever your age, your disability, your circumstances to have a life you chose. As Social Care Future put it:

“Imagine a world where we all get to live in the place we call home with the people and things that we love, doing what matters to us in communities where we look out for one another”

I was delighted recently to chair, at SCIE, the launch event for “Talking about a brighter social care future” This report, incorporating research by Lancaster University academics, analyses the story being told by “the sector” and the print media and heard by the public. It’s a story unlikely to underpin the change we need to see. The report uses “framing” theory and practice and examples of national and international movements working to shift public thinking on big issues – such as the successful equal marriage campaigns – to help consider the new story for social care, and how to tell it.

Up and down the country there are great examples of this story.  A story of hope, of living, of mutual support.  SCIE, Social Care Futures and TLAP have these stories to tell.  The Innovation Network, convened by SCIE and partners, is proof that there is a desire for this narrative, to be shapers of our future rather than victims of a dystopian future.

Against the odds excellent care is being delivered in many parts of the country. Wellbeing Teams a relatively recent arrival in social care provision, involves self-managing teams of wellbeing workers performing many of the tasks relating to staff support, reviews and quality assurance checks normally performed by the registered manager. Recently rated outstanding by CQC, it found that wellbeing teams ‘put the people they supported and the people who knew them best, at the heart of organising and planning care, so that the best outcomes for people were achieved. Where wellbeing workers felt alternative support or approaches would better help a person these were discussed with the person and people who knew the person well to identify how positive outcomes could be better achieved.’

So as Directors of Adult Social Care gather in Bournemouth for their annual conference as the stewards of social care what will their message be? Where is the vision, the aspiration, the hope to inspire a movement for a different future for social care?

Of course, a long-term funding settlement is required, so too is clarity about how we pay for this.  Workforce too requires a long-term settlement.  But, pouring more money into the current model of care and expecting a different result is extreme folly.

Any new investment in social care must make real the aims of the Care Act, promoting wellbeing, supporting informal carers and preventing and postponing the need for formal care.  Above all giving voice and control to people to have the life that matters to them.



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