Over the last few days, I have spent some time reflecting and preparing for Homecare Day which will take place this coming Wednesday 9 December. The theme of the day is ‘Care Community’ and all that homecare, and its workforce does to enable people to live and thrive, to nourish and nurture community in their own space and place.
This online and virtual day is organised by Scottish Care and the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) and it aims to raise the profile of care at home and housing support services across the United Kingdom.
The choice of ‘community’ as the theme is a deliberate one, created in order to focus on how homecare services are essential parts of the health and social care community, as well as local communities in Scotland and further afield. Homecare services and staff provide high quality, person-centred care to support the health, wellbeing and independence of people in their own homes, with staff demonstrating skill commitment and compassion every day.
As part of my reflection, I have been pondering about the nature of community. It’s a concept which means many things to many people and one that has oft been misused for various political and philosophical ends.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a very strong musical weak spot – Bruce Springsteen – so the arrival of anything new by the Boss immediately gets my attention. The busyness of the last few weeks has meant that I have not had the time to do my usual with his latest release – the brilliant ‘Letter to You’. My normal behaviour would be to obsessively devour every track on a constant repeat – but in light of the positivity of the last few days I have managed a few listens!
Springsteen has many consistent and constant themes in his music, but one of them is undoubtedly that of ‘community’. There has even been an academic paper written on the subject! He has a distinctive although not always consistent view of community in his songs. Its not a word he uses a lot, but he sings a lot about the essence of community.
Despite my personal ambivalence about the way many commentators use the concept of community, Springsteen, for me at least gets to the heart of what community is and the tensions within the idea. At times, I fear, we can have an overly romantic view of community, a yearning for some lost essence and idyll. Folks reflect on the lost communality of days gone by when neighbour knew neighbour, when mutual regard was common practice, when you could leave your door open in safety in the busiest street. We paint pictures of connection, purpose, and unity. But as we all know life was never as bucolic as the flickering images of our memory. There is equal truth in the desire to get away, to form individual identity, to make a mark and be someone beyond the reputation of upbringing, the restrictions of association, the crowding bonds of family, birthplace and reputation.
Nevertheless, there is undeniably substance to the accusation that increases in societal loneliness, a growth in mental health distress, a fragmentation of connection and purpose have in some part to do with a loss of connection, co-responsibility and at their heart a loss of community.
Springsteen in some of his classic songs describes this tension, both a yearning for and a need to escape the ‘battered blue collar communities of post-industrial America.’ The world of his memory is both one of claustrophobic conditioning and yet of an urgent desire to belong, to return and to be assured. For those who might want to go and listen – compare tracks on one album alone as reflecting these tensions. Listen to The River album and the three tracks “The Ties That Bind”, “Two Hearts” and “Out in the Street” and you can get a flavour of the inner tension of community.
“I tear on the leash
That keeps me contained and controlled
Let me go
I want to break free
And bite my way out of this hole
One last hope
To rise and break away
Above the faded line
Way beyond the ties that bind.”
Community is at the heart of homecare. The work of those who every day of the week get up and go out into our streets and homes, is about enabling another to flourish and thrive. These women and men, who not least through Covid19, have despite the challenges, are the heart of a sector so often undervalued and so frequently unappreciated. The shameful reality of basic terms and conditions, of a lack of resourcing and funding of worker and care organisation alike is an indictment against all our society. We talk the talk of hospitality and care as a society, but we fail to walk the walk in being willing to pay and sacrifice to enable those realities to come true.
Community if it is to be anything more than the lyrics of a song, or the echo chamber of idealism, needs to be paid for and fought for. The true nature of community is a solidarity that gives space, a togetherness which does not suffocate but which liberates the individual, it is a collectivism which has a common purpose broad in its reach and extensive in its arm; it is not the stuff of romantic image or syrupy memory, but rooted and raw, real and vibrant … it is what enables the beating heart to become the breath of belonging.
In essence community is the work of homecare. To be independent when you are afflicted by decline or constrained by disability requires support and care. It does not need you to be ‘looked after’ as if you have no capacity, individuality or voice. This is what homecare does day in and day out. It liberates life to belong, it enables individuals to be independent rather than dependent on others. This is why homecare should never be the afterthought when costing and commissioning social care, it is the essence of who we are as a society. Homecare embodies and emboldens human community.
The reason for that is that behind all the romantic idylls of community is the truth that we become better and more human when we replace an individualistic narcissism with the desire to be there for others, to bind ourselves into a regard for the stranger, and to commit ourselves to forming real belonging and relatedness. Care creates community.
So, it is a shameful indictment on our society and those of us who call ourselves citizens that we even in the shadow of a pandemic continue to undervalue care at home and housing support services. Because if care is the best of us, then the lack of resourcing, the marginalising of the workforce and their concerns, the lack of prioritisation for its contribution should be to our embarrassment.
This last week I have answered emails from managers and staff who simply cannot understand why they are still not being tested for Covid19 on a regular basis – months after I wrote and spoke about the need for this. I’ve received emails from those at the breaking point of exhaustion and fatigue because of the demands of wearing PPE and the continual stress and fear they are living with in their daily work. But perhaps most shameful of all I have received messages from organisations saying that they are being asked to ‘pull lunch visits’ in order to save on the packages of care for the most vulnerable. Just picture it – a 15-minute visit , during which as a worker you have safely to don and doff your PPE, then get someone up for the day, deliver personal care and attention, make sure they have their breakfast and have taken their medicine, to do all this with dignity and respect, care and compassion – then someone says to you – oh and make them a sandwich rather than go in at lunchtime. And all in 15 minutes because that’s all that the Council can or will pay for.
This is where all this talk of community sticks in the craw. We do not create community and real connection by talking (or singing) about it – we create it through our actions, the way we spend our money as a society, the way we make our decisions, and prioritise (or not) those who need care and support. On that front, pandemic Scotland is failing and falling well short.
The state of homecare is rotten to the core, it is a stench not of the making of worker or care provider, of those supported and their carers, but of those who cost and price, who save and contract, who electronically monitor and fiscally frown. We simply have to do better and to reform with a sense of urgency.
Care community is the theme for Homecare Day, and I hope you will join the social media message and conversation which will be happening on Wednesday. But in doing so I hope you will agree to work for a change that truly ensures ‘community’ is at the heart of all that we seek to do in the coming weeks and months. They will be a time requiring us all to lean upon each other, to have regard for neighbour and to listen to the stranger; they will require the amazing dedication and professionalism of the women and men who work in homecare, care home, hospital and many more places. Community never just happens by accident ; it is always an intentional act from an instinct of regard and mutuality. In these days more than any other it needs nourished and protected so that it might flourish into a spring of support.
I leave you with some words from a favourite Bruce Springsteen track. They speak of that sense that true community, true love, means no one is left behind, no one walks alone, that we have to have regard to the pace of others, that it is in our leaning on one another that we discover a belonging, a togetherness, a community beyond cost.
“ We said we’d walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we’re walking a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me…
Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true
Oh, but you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
I’ll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me… “
Please join Homecare Day on Wednesday 9th and for more details see https://scottishcare.org/homecare-day-2020-9-december/