In SCIE's paper Total Transformation of Care and Support - developed with Shared Lives and Birmingham City Council - we identify five ways in which social care and support can help people live a good life. The five ways range from helping people home from hospital through and carry on living at home through to helping people to find work and make social connections. If we open our minds, re-think what outcomes we're seeking to achieve via social care, it is possible to grasp its transformative potential.
Partly as a response to concerns about social care, Theresa May has introduced us to the concept of the Shared Society based on the "bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions."
Defined broadly, social care can contribute hugely to such a vision. For at least the last 15 years, reforms to social care have been driven by the goal of recognising people as active citizens, with strengths and capabilities they can bring to bear, rather than as passive recipients of care. In parallel, reforms have also sought to build the capacity of communities - the voluntary sector, peer networks, and friendship groups - so that people can find forms of care and support without using formal care institutions.
Innovations like personal budgets, which give service users control over how they pay for care, and asset-based approaches, which encourage people draw on wider community networks, all seek to reinforce these goals. That sounds very like the shared society to me.
In researching total transformation of care, we were amazed by the number of initiatives we found that have managed to dramatically improve outcomes whilst making effective use of community-based resources. In Doncaster and Devon, wellbeing teams, supported by a 'community circle' of local volunteers, provide outcome-focused person-centred home care. In Wigan, a Wigan Deal has been brokered between the council and community with the promise of making it easier for people who need help to access local community resources. In Derby, local area coordinators help residents in the local community to 'get a life, not a service', empowering local people to find community-based solutions instead of relying on services.
But here's the catch: drawing on the skills and assets of communities is not cost-free. The very best practice in social care, including excellent residential, home care and care for disabled people with complex needs requires significant resources. And so they should. But even totally voluntary care service require start up, management and infrastructure costs.
In our paper we call for the equivalent of a five year forward view for social care; but with money attached. To arrive at a place where more care services are person-centred, rooted in communities, and successfully connect people to their peers, we need to invest, especially if you are transforming to these new ways of promoting healthy and fulfilling lives for recipients of traditional services. It's tough out there. Local authorities and health organisations are seeking to cut costs, keep essential services going, and transform their offer all at the same time. But concerted effort really will be worth it. A shared society sounds good, if we can make it a reality.