Empty Words and Catheters

The Conservatives have been in power for over decade now, and right from the start they’ve been promising a big announcement of a plan to ‘fix’ social care. As a Social Care user this has always made me very nervous because politicians, especially the Tories, understand very little about the reality of disabled people’s lives.

It turns out their big announcement wasn’t about Social Care at all. Mainly it was about funding for the NHS – with maybe some money coming to Social Care in three years’ time.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid did follow up with a speech to the Party Conference in which he explained his big plan is essentially, ‘don’t ask us for help… go to your family first… then to your community.’

Is my 70 year old mum who lives in Buckinghamshire expected to come and help me get dressed every morning and will Sajid himself, who lives much closer, be on hand to help me with my catheters at night?

A photograph of a mint green coloplast catheter on a wooden table in dappled wintry sunshine. The catheter has Sajid Javid, the health secretary’s name written on it in black marker.

‘Family’ and ‘community’ might sound good, but in reality this is just more empty, impractical rhetoric that distracts from the actual issues affecting Social Care: low pay for skilled roles, failed privatisation, labour shortages caused by Brexit, and a decade of neglect and austerity.

The reality is that families and communities have always been stepping in to help. We know this from the huge numbers of unpaid carers, estimated to be 6.5 million in the UK.

Applying for Social Care is an exhausting and complicated process. Local Authorities don’t hand funds out on a whim and anyone in receipt of funded care will have had to demonstrate significant requirements. Many people don’t get the help they desperately need. Age UK estimate there are 1.4 million older people not getting care. Perhaps more alarmingly, there don’t even seem to be figures for younger disabled adults.

Conversations about care often focus on the health and wellbeing requirements of unpaid carers, or the low-pay of paid workers in the sector. Both are significant issues and important to discuss, but these narratives all miss something fundamental – the autonomy of the person who requires the care.

We’re often presented as entirely passive. You don’t suddenly stop having responsibilities or ambitions just because you need help with daily living. The support I receive is what allows me to be an active part of my family and community!

Trying to divide society into the givers and recipients of care is reductive and ridiculous because we’re all likely to be both.

Social Care should be about enabling people at any stage of life to live independently. I’m worn down by having to advocate for my basic right to be safe from one day to the next.

Please don’t buy into the soundbites. Instead, listen to those of us who have deep lived understanding of the issues. There are some great organisations working to challenge assumptions about care and offer solutions to the current challenges. They include Social Care Future and Inclusion London.

I don’t want Sajid’s help with my catheters, but I do want him to realise that Social Care is a vital part of any humane society.

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