The status and state of social care provision is – to mix metaphors almost unforgivably – a hot potato that has been kicked into the long grass. It is over two years since Boris Johnson said on 27 July 2019: “I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
Covid has highlighted ageism and problems in the care sector
By the time Covid-19 started to make itself evident some eight months later, nothing further had happened. But the pandemic served to highlight not only the practical problems besetting the care sector, but also conflicting and ageist attitudes to older people.
They were held up as frail and vulnerable, in need of isolation and protection, yet it is estimated that in waves one and two of the pandemic, over 42,000 deaths of care home residents in England and Wales cited coronavirus as a cause. It is likely that many were attributable to discharge from hospital without testing, and the rapid transmission that ensued.
Policy on the funding and provision of adult social care is by no means ‘fixed’, despite intensified lobbying by the sector for clarity on long-term strategy and accountability. It must be tempting for politicians to keep it in the ‘too difficult’ filing tray.
So, should providers, care workers and older people also be tempted to give up and despair? Certainly not. Although revision of the system is vital and long overdue, there is meanwhile much good practice going on all around us. It was for this reason that I wrote and recently published my second book – Making Relational Care Work for Older People – about the concept and benefits of ‘relational care’.
What is relational care?
Relational care is a positive and affirming approach to care. It’s not a one-way street, where the recipient is disempowered and the giver exploited, but a paradigm where wellbeing and meaning in life are supported in networks of trust, founded on mutual knowledge and acceptance.
The concept is based on observations over the last five years (including some 150 in-depth interviews and visits to 50 different care homes and community projects) that good care is about creating environments that foster trust, love, and autonomy; and enable older people to contribute to their communities. A whole range of relational care practices – design adaptations, Montessori and intergenerational models, and technology innovations amongst others – can play a part.
Forum taking place in Thirsk, North Yorkshire
The nature and impacts of these relational care practices, which I describe in my book, will be explored and discussed in a forum being held in Thirsk, North Yorkshire on 3 and 4 September. Speakers from care home groups, pioneering community projects, politics and the UK’s AgeTech Accelerator programme, as well as leading academics, will share learning with professionals, older people and their carers. The meeting will also hear from the Re-imagining Care Commission about its work.
Humans are designed to be interdependent, and independence can all too easily equate to loneliness and isolation. Now is the time to raise radical questions about the nature of care: to seek inspiring examples of what can be achieved and to keep pressing for re-envisioned policy.
Visit our events page for more details about the relational care forum and how you can take part.