THE BLOG

Home Is Where the Heart Is

03/09/2014 14:11 BST | Updated 03/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Choosing your own home is so important. But for many disabled and older people who need care to live a full life there is simply no choice.

We all remember our first home. Quite often a lot less comfortable than the one we live in now. Sometimes draughty, if not downright artic in winter, and not equipped with power showers in the bathroom either, if I remember right. But the point was that it was ours-whether we were renting or were paying off a mortgage, it belonged to us. It was our choice.

And that is why the report of the Demos Commission on Residential Care today is so important. It's all about choice. About ensuring that disabled and older people who need care have a full range of choices about where to live and receive that care. And that when they've made that choice, their home belongs to them. That they have the full range of usual rights whether as a tenant or owner, to preserve their independence.

And let's face it. We ought all to be very interested in how we are going to support people who need care to live the fullest possible life in the future. It's one of those rare occasions when we can do the right thing by being totally self-interested. What's right for us, for our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours is exactly the same as what's right for Paralympians and Nobel Prize-winning physicists.

We are all living longer and many of us are living with conditions that require support. And so we need to get this right now. Or we'll be living miserable, lonely lives where we can't leave our own homes because there are steep steps, and we don't take a bath from one week to the next because the bathroom is upstairs.

We need a full range of housing options where care can be provided. And so for the last year as a Commissioner on the Demos Commission on Residential Care we've been looking at developing choices that we would positively and personally want. Support suitable for the 21st century.

Talking about the future of care and our personal plans should become a coffee shop conversation in the same way that parents speak about the right schools for their children. Just imagine having a strip wash at the kitchen sink because you are unable to use an upstairs bathroom. That is the daily reality for thousands of people in England today. And that may be our reality too if we don't do something about it now.

Some people will say that good housing with care should be the responsibility of family and friends. But the truth is that it's a pretty unusual and fortunate family or group of friends that can provide 24 hour care. Most of us willingly do what we can, when we can, and juggle it with caring for children and earning a living and generally end up exhausted. So, even with the best possible commitment most of us will need some extra support.

And besides professional care is a good thing. It's a skilled job and exceptionally difficult to do well. Of course we should help. Just as we help with homework. But few of us think that we have the skills to teach A level Maths. We babysit and lend a hand with new-born babies, but we don't think we are equipped to be midwives. Professional support releases our loved ones to be our loved ones-a unique and irreplaceable role-and not a midwife, teacher or 24 hour care worker. So, we need to plan ahead for the choices we will be making. Some of us will choose a support worker visiting them daily and others will opt for housing where there is 24 hour support on-site. Some of will prefer to live alone and others will choose to live in company with others. We may move from one choice to another as our circumstances change. But there is no need for us to lose our independence or our property rights.

Amazingly, providing good housing with care will likely mean that we free hospital beds where so many people stay because there is nowhere safe or suitable for them to be discharged. And so save our wonderful NHS much-needed money.

And in a world where much needs to be done the Commissioners found one cause for special celebration. We all felt strongly that-notwithstanding the tragic stories that hit the headlines- care workers' dedication and commitment every day was a quiet triumph. Every one who has experienced this loving and skilled care shares a passion to show how much we value what care workers do on a daily basis. At the very least we should celebrate care as a wonderful career choice with great training; and nothing less than a living-wage should be acceptable.

And on the other side of the coin, we all fully supported the Care Quality Commission taking muscular and effective action when they found rude or indifferent care, let alone worse. We need a watchdog with teeth.

We should all be able to plan ahead for a future with good housing with good care that raises our spirits in the same way as that moment when we moved to our first home.