The giftedness of humanity: a seasonal reflection

It is as I am sure many of you will know only 29 days till Christmas. The shopping and buying frenzy is well and truly on. Christmas lights are lit up in the city centres and I’m starting to see trees appearing in windows. I’ve even received my first Christmas cards of the year! And yes, it’s not even December!

I have to confess to being an unmitigated lost romantic soul about Christmas – I love it! But there are aspects which I struggle with most years and perhaps this year in particular.

Yesterday was Black Friday and indeed the past week in emails and websites, television and radio I’ve heard nothing other than the bargains that are just waiting to be snatched up in a shopping frenzy. Black Friday is the popular name given to the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s only been around I gather since 2005 but it has now become a dominant retail feature on this side of the Atlantic as much as in the States. It has also spawned off-shoots such as Cyber Monday which in case you hadn’t known is a day to get all those bargains you didn’t know were out there on the technology and digital gadgets you didn’t know you needed.

The older I get the larger the part of me that gets uncomfortable with the sheer commercialism of this time of year and the pressure to buy, buy, buy. Now lest I be called out as a Scrooge I am not for a minute denying the importance of gifting and generosity but especially this year I wonder if we have the balance, right?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of giving this week not just because I’ve had a bit of a visceral reaction to Black Friday but because of a conversation I’ve had with a professional home-carer. She works in an area which has immense economic challenges combined with so many of the effects of poverty, homelessness, and addiction. In her own words she’s a ‘tough cookie’ but she told me that’s she has been brought to tears on more than one occasion recently. She told me of someone she provides support for by getting her up out of bed, making sure her personal care needs are attended to and by making her her breakfast before returning later in the day to support her to bed at night. She told me that despite the sharp drop in temperatures this week every day she visited the old lady had refused to put her heating on. As the week went on, she was quite literally getting colder and colder. The worker took appropriate action but what upset her most was that when she asked the lady why she was refusing to put her heating on the response was one of hyper anxiety that she would run out of money. She then went on to say that any extra she could save she’d give to her grandchildren who were doing extra shifts and work just to make ends meet.

I’ve written before about poverty, but it’s cold reality is a stark reminder of the imbalance of our communities. As thousands get a Black Friday bargain there are thousands frightened by the fear as much as by the reality of poverty.

As an antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday on Tuesday coming many will celebrate and recognise Giving Tuesday. It has sometimes been called Charity Tuesday.

It is a day supported by many global and local organisations and philanthropists to encourage everyone everywhere to do something to support the causes that matter to them – and it’s not just about money.

As the organisers state:

‘You can volunteer your time; donate money; share your skills; campaign for something; donate goods, food, or clothes; organise a community event such as a street or park clean-up or a coffee morning. The list really is endless.’

Created just 12 years ago Giving Tuesday is a day that encourages people to do good and it has over the last decade become a global movement to celebrate giving and generosity, collaboration and sharing

In the run up to Christmas my mother often used to paraphrase a biblical verse to say that it was always ‘better to give than to receive.’ And whilst as a child I probably dismissed the sentiment as an excuse for scarcity its truth is becoming more and more inescapable as I get older.

A few years ago, when I worked in a learning disability project I spent a lot of time training other people in the models of person-cratered planning and the tools and techniques which could be used to help people – many of whom were non-verbal or who had spent years in institutions – to achieve a better life in which they were independent and in control. One of the core concepts of many of the models was that of ‘giftedness’. As the product of a traditional Scottish upbringing, I struggled both to understand and to convey an idea which struck me as oh so American. In essence giftedness was not the objects or stuff we give to another but that unique contribution which we brought, and which was ours in any interaction or relationship. In a society that bestows value and prestige often by possession and wealth it was a process that turned the table by elevating individuality, presence and contribution. So, a smile, a positive attitude, the ability to make others feel at ease or to inspire – these were all ‘gifts’ and the task of the group was to help a person not only to discover the gift which was theirs but to free, develop and celebrate that ‘gift.’ You can see how that might have sat awkwardly in a cultural context that so often was about not being too big for your boots!

Giving is something that really can change lives not solely the gifts of time or resource or money but the gifts of attention and our own unique humanity. In the next few weeks when so many are faced with the raw economic challenges of barely having enough money to survive and keep going, I earnestly hope that the spirit of Giving Tuesday can fill the month of December with a focus not on the bargains of the season but the humanity of our giftedness one to the other.

The poet Kahlil Gibran said On Giving

‘Then said a rich man, Speak to us of Giving.

And he answered:

You give but little when you give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?

And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

And what is fear of need by need itself?

Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;

And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.

And is there aught you would withhold?

All you have shall some day be given;

Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

Donald Macaskill

Care Home VAT Restructuring Webinar

Thursday 1 December, 2:00 – 3:00 pm

Scottish Care have joined up with Care England to host a webinar on the 1st December from 2:00 -3:00 pm regarding VAT restructuring. We are in challenging financial times due to the lack of local authority funding on top of the cost-of-living crisis nationally. VAT restructuring is a solution to recover input VAT for care homes on local authority and NHS funded resident contracts. Care Homes are currently unable to recover VAT without restructuring, due to the existing VAT exemption in place. Any VAT restructuring to recover VAT as a result is subject to both HMRC and Regulatory approval which has been obtained successfully in the past and equates to an uplift fee equivalent of over 3% to 5%, and is of zero costs the local authority and NHS other than an amendment to their contracts as they can recover VAT charged in full via HMRC, by way of their usual VAT returns.

The webinars are aimed at raising awareness of how care home providers can restructure their organisations to enable VAT recovery on publicly funded contracts. Highly regarded VAT specialist firm, Kieran Lynch will provide an overview of the process and answer any questions or concerns you have. They offer practical support and guidance and will work with you should you wish to look at opportunities for your organisation.  Not all local authorities and NHS bodies currently permit VAT recovery, however, close to 50% do, and as such we see a significant amount of additional funding which can be made available to your organisation to help offset some of the cost pressures providers are facing now. We believe that increasing numbers of request from providers will support the argument for VAT recovery in all local authority and NHS areas.

We hope you will join this webinar and consider if VAT restructuring is something your organisation is keen to consider. This is not a sales opportunity; materials will be shared after the session to those who are interested to contact Kieran Lynch directly.

Please note that Grant Thornton will no longer be attending this webinar, there will be another webinar in the new year scheduled with Grant Thornton. More details to follow.

Please head to our Members Area to register for this webinar.

Launch of the Social Care Campaign

We are delighted to launch the ‘Social Care Campaign’ today (Thursday 24 November 2022). Scottish Care worked with members to produce the ‘Social Care Campaign’. This campaign aims to raise the profile of social care in Scotland, across care homes and homecare. We hope to use the campaign as a positive vehicle for sharing good practice, information and evidencing the sector’s value.

Today, we are seeing a crisis in social care like nothing we have seen before – with workforce shortages, the rising cost of living and other problems which make it increasingly challenging for sustainability.

Now is the time to #careaboutcare. We need your help to get involved in this campaign and #shinealight on the social care sector.

You can get involved by sharing your stories with us (through either written words, video or audio clips), sending letters to MSPs, pledging your support and sharing the campaign with others. We will also be hosting an online lobby day on Wednesday 7 December – more details to follow.

As part of this campaign, we are producing videos that highlight the positivity of the social care sector. We are currently looking for user-generated content for this (with the appropriate permissions) which highlights the relationships built between care home residents, homecare service users and their care workers and any activities undertaken in the sector. The guide to filming this content is available here. Please send these videos to [email protected].

At the Care Home Conference 2022, last week, we launched a mini care home film – you can watch it here.

Information on the campaign is available at: https://scottishcare.org/social-care-campaign/

Re-imagining care homes – time to explore.

The following talk was in part delivered at the close of the Scottish Care Care Home Conference held in Glasgow yesterday.

 I don’t get much time for reading these days so when I do something needs to capture and hold me – and one book recently has done just that – Sir Geoff Mulgan is Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London. He used to be chief executive of Nesta and held government roles including as Downing Street’s head of policy in the early noughties. He’s written a book called ‘Another World is Possible: how to reignite social and political imagination.’ I’d thoroughly recommend it as it is a book brim-full of ideas and insights, no little challenge and a lot of provocation.

Its main argument is that as societies and the world face the challenges of living in the light of the pandemic and the ‘slow calamity of climate change, we also face a third, less visible emergency: ‘a crisis of imagination.’

Mulgan argues that especially the young struggle to imagine a world better than the one we live in now and that perhaps they are the first generation so to believe – the first generation which is less positive about the future we are creating and leaving for our inheritors. Too many are resigned to fatalism or at most tinkering on the edges of real change and transformation. This crisis of imagination is crippling us and we need to discover ways to reimagine the future to reimagine better and to visualise how we are going to arrive and get there.

I don’t know about you but I certainly want the children of my living and the community of my belonging to be living in a world better than it is now and I still with Mulgan believe a better world is possible.

And I know that’s hard – it’s risky to dream and visualise change and difference and not be accused of escapism and utopian folly – but I think that’s what we have to do even after a day in which we have not exactly avoided or not heard the challenges facing the care home sector in Scotland.

I want to use some of what Mulgan says to spend a bit of time at the end of our day reflecting on the future of care homes. I want the reflection to be practical in nature, but I also want to challenge both myself and ourselves. I am starting from the premise – that we urgently need to re-imagine the future of care homes and aged care in general – in part because I do not think we can stand still, that what we offer now will not be fit for purpose in fifteen or twenty years, and that if the sector and its leadership does not do the work of re-imagining tomorrow’s care and support  – along with those who use supports and their advocates and those who are likely to be users of aged care in the future  – then the re-design will be undertaken by the misinformed, biased and partisan – no doubt accusations which will be directed towards myself. But I’m also convinced that re-imagining always is an activity shared with others never a solitary pursuit if real change is desired.

So why is imagination so important? Mulgan explores this in great depth using insights from Socrates to Star Wars and with him I believe that ‘Society now and in the future depends on imagination.’

He rightly critiques the fact that there is a real dearth of imagination and a poverty of ideas in our society… and I think that accusation can be amplified when we think of the world of social care – and I will be honest from what I have seen thus far from the ideas of the National Care Service – although there is a lot of good stuff, its view of the imagined possible future is predictable, pedestrian and a re-shaping of the known into a familiar future not one that will outlive its designers. And lazy re-imagining is dangerous and inexcusable – because and this is selfish – I do not want a future world of social care support to be the fruit of compromise and affordability, of lazy design and casual engagement – I want it to be a horizon which draws me in and which opens up a new world for me.

Imagination is a powerful force and tool if used well. For something to be it has to become real and imagining something births that reality. Ideas do not come from nothing, new systems, and ways of relating originate somewhere with someone or they remain forever locked in our heads.

Imagining the future of care homes is not about cloud cuckoo land but recognising that the fruit of tomorrow is already growing in the soil of our present experience.

Part of what I think the residential care sector has to do is to develop what Mulgan calls the ‘adjacent possible’ – the nearby options which are the alternatives to present arrangements – but have a spark of the familiar. But I also think we have to go much further than just tweaking or light changes – we have to be much more adventurous and explorative. We have to develop a collective of care imaginaries – people who have the skill and foresight to imagine a better future and a different way of being and doing aged care.

Social care in Scotland badly needs dreamers and people who can see beyond the limited vision of the now. That’s why I have looked with real interest at the HIVE collective. But I hope you will excuse me because I am going to try and picture a different future –to try to expand what Mulgan calls the ‘possibility space’ ; to backcast into the future.

In visualising that future I want to plant certain seeds in the present and you can decide if they grow and flourish or if they deserve to shrivel in the earth.

The first is that we have to urgently re-imagine age:

I do hope that at some point today you have had the chance to drop by the stall staffed by colleagues from the University of Stirling and elsewhere and have learned more about the project Reimagining the Future of Older Age. They have done some brilliant work including producing a gorgeous film by Ray Bird. The project is about how we think about the future as we age and as we become older; does the future matter more or does it matter less? It challenges the dominant stereotype and cultural narrative which presents older age as nothing to do with the future – the belief that the future belongs to the young.

Dr Valerie Wright now of Glasgow University reflects that as we grow up we always ask young people ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’  but no- one ever asks older people what do you want to do in the future? What do you want to do when you get older? Who do you want to be? And how very true she is.

A reimagining of age is necessary to challenge the inadequacy of those narratives and societal biases. As I have consistently and often said I have personally witnessed first-hand, lives transformed and changed, as in the last months, days and moments of life a reconciliation has been nurtured, a discovery made, a new creative contribution shared, and a new loving started.  The future has no use by date.

And let’s be honest the world of social care and aged care is too often dominated by a narrative which accepts the bias against contribution and capacity of older age.

For instance, we have rightly used reminiscence – a looking back – as a mechanism and a means to ease the distress of those with neurological conditions such as dementia – but I increasingly wonder whether the dominance of reminiscence approaches is misplaced and that we are losing real neurological benefit by not adopting a more futuristic approach to dementia care and support and to older aged care in general.

Reimagining age whether in care home or community is a fundamental first step to the reimagining of a future of contribution and new discovery.

The second seed which I think the world of aged care needs is to re-imagine the very essence and nature of collective living, of being in community in older age with one others.

It is inescapable – and this is true of the world over – that we must ask a fundamental question as to whether or not congregated or collective or group living remains an appropriate modern form of being in community with others.

Or being blunt do we just do it for those who are too old, too frail, too poor, because it is the cheapest way for a society to hold to its moral and ethical duties of care? Hard words but unless we can answer them in an affirmative way which says no – that collective living in older age can be life-changing, life affirming and life enhancing – then we are deceiving no-one.

Now my personal premise is that I really do believe that the future – to say nothing of the present – is about us living by choice not by cost – in community alongside others.

Some would say congregated living is always wrong – never acceptable – and Twitter is alive with a narrative which equates care homes as removers of rights, limiters of choice and control, ‘prisons’ of individuality. That critique has to be answered honestly.

But personally, I believe there is a future for collective and shared living and one of the reasons is that it is better than isolated loneliness. It will not be long before the majority of people in Scotland over the age of 65 will be living in single person households – and we have already witnessed a saddening growth in isolation, loneliness and mental distress amongst those who are alone – so it is not unreasonable to suggest that increasingly there will be a growing number of people who choose to live alongside others, and at a stage of  life when they have control and capacity – that shared collective living becomes something that is desirable and beneficial.

But just as I am convinced that collective and shared living has a place in the future of aged care – so I am equally convinced that a radical re-design of the way we deliver care and support in a shared space is very necessary.

There is a narrative which says that shared living is about creating a home from home; that care homes are people’s homes first and foremost. Inevitably there is a counter critique not least as a result of pandemic response and behaviours, that says that care homes have failed in being a person’s home. So the sector has to honestly ask, in replicating a home from home how are we doing?

Are our care homes places where people can live and love, rest and be loved, grow and be fulfilled, discover and change – or are they rather places where folks work, people are checked and viewed, monitored and evaluated? Are they places where we obsess about risk or let the mess flow, are they tidy or unkempt, disease free or life affirming?

We use home not to limit or imprison us but as a place to be ourselves, to be fed and renewed, to rest and relax, to entertain and be entertained, to sleep and restore, to be secure and be comfortable, to hide and be private. Are our care homes such a space and place?

For me a home is a place to make memories – what are the memories made in our care homes? Are they life enhancing or life limiting?

If we answer that care homes are not a home from home, then we have to ask honestly can we change that to a yes?

My third seed is that for me part of the re-imagining of aged care must surely be about build and design. Imagine a world will you where you all live in exactly the same type of house – everything is the same – no variety and no distinctiveness – every room measures the same, the layout identical, the windows are where they are – the mundanity of the predictable rules. But your individuality is allowed up to a point – you can decorate the space as you want – you can even bring some of your own things – providing they are of suitable material as to prevent infectious spread and conflagration. Not that much of a caricature in case I’m accused of it

The future has to be not so much about the architecture of design and more about the imagination of space. I think we need a radical redesign of space and place so that we allow both architectural and design freedom -collective living in space needs a revolution – or we will continue to ghettoise older age – at its worst in places separate from community by geography and cost or separated from connection even in the midst of busyness. Aged care beyond four walls does not just happen by accident it has to be purposefully designed and built.

There are emerging examples of such creativity like the ‘What we Share’ models in Stavanger Norway; Berlin’s ‘baugruppen’; Lange Enk in Denmark or Kraftwerk 2 in Switzerland.

We have a chance to capture the design spirit of the age. The idea of ‘fifteen-minute cities’ – sometimes known as 20-minute neighbourhoods – probably needs little introduction. Strongly associated with the Paris professor Carlos Moreno, and the mayor Anne Hidalgo, it has gained extra energy from the pandemic and the changes in our living in community. Its basic premise is that all our daily necessities can be accomplished by either walking or cycling from our homes. It shrinks the whole concept of what local means to the touching – or walking distance of our neighbourhood. It is closely linked to the concept which is becoming hugely popular of ‘ageing in place’ which is “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Ageing in place has something to say to the future of aged care in residential and nursing shared communities.

My last seed is that we radically need to re-imagine the nature of scrutiny, inspection and oversight in aged care. Of course, both families and residents, and wider society needs a sense of assurance about the quality and humanity of care – but increasingly I feel we have the balance all wrong. A care home resident is more closely observed, monitored, and watched than your average penguin at Edinburgh Zoo. The human right to privacy, to dignity alone, to the joy of absence, the hiddenness of living – all are lost when we turn our aged care settings into goldfish bowls. The individuality and uniqueness of the person, the desire to take risks and make mistakes, to fall in your failing and rise in your discovery are put aside if we adopt measures that limit self-expression, individuality, and freedom.

The perverse irony is that all our standards and statements talk about systems being person-centred but leave no room for care support to be person led by resident and family. At the very least we need a radical balancing of risk in aged care regulation. The constant current behaviour and presumption of the right to intrude on the part of outside agencies is offensive and unacceptable.

I could go on but for me this is a conversation not a soliloquy – the future of aged care in Scotland – of collective shared living is too important to leave to accident or happenstance – it needs a work of imaginative discovery and exploration.

I love old maps because at their best they are not about helping you find your way, but they tell you the story of a community or nation at a particular time. None more so than ancient medieval maps. On many of these maps at the edge you can sometimes see a picture of a wild beast and the words ‘ Here be dragons…’ – that was for all the places which were unknown and yet to be discovered.

Explorers use the knowledge they have to try and test the waters of the future – they venture into the unknown, but they are not just dreamers searching for utopia – because they use the skills and instruments of their known reality to create a different tomorrow.

Reimagining the future of aged care is about travelling beyond the known into a new world of discovery – it’s about re-designing with others, a future we want to achieve – it is a world where older age still grows And flourishes and changes and contradicts; it is a space and place where conformity to design is replaced by the adventure of personal control and choice; it is an experience of self-freedom rather than external monitoring; put simply it has to be a world which we would be proud for our children and our grandchildren to inherit.

 

Donald Macaskill

Making Movember matter: preventing early male death.

Many of you will know that November is a month dedicated to give special focus to issues of male health. It is also a month increasingly known as Movember because of the international movement of that name.

The origins of the Movember movement which has funded over 1,200 men’s health projects globally are relatively recent. A TV news programme in 1999 shared the story of a group of young men in Adelaide, South Australia who coined the term “Movember” and the idea of growing moustaches for charity throughout the month of November. Like all good ideas it seems to have originated in a pub discussion but has done a huge amount not only in Australia but across the globe to increase awareness of male health. Movember in all its charitable work has raised $174-million worldwide.

Movember has a particular focus on prostate and testicular cancer, suicide prevention and male mental health.

As someone who grew up in west Scotland and in a cultural and community environment where men rarely spoke about issues of mental health and emotion, saw going to the doctor as a sign of failure, and certainly did not consider precautionary actions in detecting cancers, the amazing work of Movember seems light years away and evidence of very real change and progress.

Yet I wonder if we have changed all that much. Indeed, having worked in health and social care for quite a while I remain astonished at the frequent resistance of men to take up opportunities around health screening and wellbeing. There clearly are still deeply ingrained cultural and societal attitudes and behaviours which assume that seeking help, talking about your feelings and sharing fears and concerns, or simply just attending to one’s own health are activities not deemed to be masculine and male.  Damaging nonsense which must surely come from somewhere.

It is well known that men will die on average 4.5 years earlier than women, and for reasons that are largely preventable. Men are simply dying too young, and it does not need to be like that. As I visit care homes it is clearly the case that our male population is seriously under-represented amongst the very old. Surely this is a silent reality that we should all be seeking to prevent? Movember has a clear aim and that is to reduce preventable male death by 25% by the year 2030. It is a laudable and perfectly achievable aim if we change the narrative around masculinity, maleness and health. I would contend that this must start with our approach to stereotypes in relation to health at a very young age. The absence of strong male role models positive about health and preventative care and behaviour does not help in this battle against avoidable death.

The data and statistics are self-selling and self-evident. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in the UK. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 25-49. On average, 13 men each day take their life by suicide in the UK. In Scotland, one man in four dies before the age of 65. Indeed, healthy life expectancy for men has fallen by more than a year in Scotland, with no similar change seen in other UK nations. Life expectancy for males at birth was 60.9 years in 2018-2020, a drop of 1.4 years on the previous two-year period, according to the Office for National Statistics. These are statistics that require focused action.

There are some tremendous and creative organisations focussed on male health in Scotland and yet there strikes me as a lack of coordination and policy focus in attending to this major area of public health. This is especially noticeable when I explore what is available for older men where the lack of provision and resource seems especially concerning. Movements such as Movember are to be greatly lauded and supported but they can be no substitute for governmental and system focus on the prioritising of the needs of men in our population, not least older men, and nowhere more so than in Scotland.

I couldn’t put it better than the words of the internet poet forty two who wrote:

 

The Antidote to Man Flu (Movember Muse)

 

Man flu is not a decease

or a medical condition

but shameful terminology

and psychological attrition

designed to keep men working

and pretend they are not ill

because their health is less important

than the tasks they must fulfil

 

Then the demand that men “man up”

translates to ignore distress or pain

ignore your personal wellbeing

for anther’s personal gain

compounded by the social stigma

should a man dare to complain

or should he show emotion

people react like he’s insane

 

The ratlin and prozac

that the doctors freely give

create controlled existence

and stifle the ability to live

it’s time to end the shame

silence the voices in your head

and the first step is to prescribe

a pill thats coloured red

 

https://allpoetry.com/poems/about/mens-health

 

Donald Macaskill

 

Care Home Conference 2022 – 1 week to go!

Care Home Conference and Exhibition 2022

‘More than four walls’
Friday 18 November 2022
Hilton, Glasgow

Our 2022 National Care Home Conference, Exhibition and Awards will be taking place next week on Friday 18 November 2022 at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow.

This event is titled ‘More than four walls’ and is the 23rd consecutive year of the Care Home Conference. During Care Home Day 2022, Scottish Care posed the question – what do you wish people knew about care homes? The response was clear: that they are more than four walls. This conference aims to change the misunderstandings and misrepresentations in the care home sector and to make real and meaningful change.

The Conference will feature a range of key speakers including: 

  • Humza Yousaf –  Cabinet Secretary for Health & Social Care, Scottish Government
  • Dame Sue Bruce – Chair, Independent Review of Inspection, Scrutiny & Regulation
  • Jackie Irvine, CEO, Care Inspectorate

We will also hear from the care home perspectives in a number of talks or panels on the themes of the National Care Service, sustainability, and care homes being ‘more than four walls’.

Delegates will be able to choose from a number of creative, practice-based insight sessions and access a diverse exhibition showcasing products and services tailored to a care-home audience.

Ticket rates for Scottish Care members are £70+VAT, for non-members, it is £130+VAT.

Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of the only conference in Scotland which focuses specifically on care home provision and book your places now.

Find out more and book here

#morethan4walls    #carehome22

Remembering is an act of loving.

Next Friday in regimented moments of silence the nation will come together to remember all those who in a growing number of conflicts paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the love of other. For the diminishing few who were alive during the Second World War this year’s reflections will have an added poignancy not least because a mainstay of connection will be absent following the death of Elizabeth the Queen. But perhaps an even more acute resonance is because we are remembering at a time when Europe is once again witnessing the barbarity of war and the evil which is humanity’s hatred of others. How little we remember.

Anyone who has been following the images from Ukraine will know well the horrors that tens of thousands have and are still enduring. You will call to witness the thousands of men, women and children who have had to flee to find rest and rescue in other nations of Europe including Scotland. It is beyond comprehension that in the 21st century we are watching on our television screens scenes of destruction and bombing resonant with those of the 1940s. How little we remember.

I suspect like many of my age who have not known war directly I have often asked of others the question as to why with such distance of time we still remember in formal gatherings. I’ve answered that query in part because of a personal need to pay tribute to those in my own family who fought and in some cases died in war, even if known only to me by name and story. But the older I get the more convinced I become of the importance of remembrance both as a collective act of solidarity and of commitment but also as something which needs to with ever greater energy become part of the rhythm of our togetherness. The act of remembering is an act of loving.

So what is it on Friday and every day that as individuals and as a community we should seek to remember and to piece together from the fragments of our feelings inside our hearts and minds?

That’s always going to be an individual response but for me at this time and in this place where priorities seem so skewed and when fear is so prevalent amongst the old and ill, those in my world who work in and receive social care supports – remembering has to be about active loving.

Remember as we silently stand the lives of those shut in by fear of not being able to pay their bills and who risk coldness and worsening health.

Remember all those working in homecare and care home, who try every day to soothe the hard memories of confusion and distress for those whose worlds dementia has shrunk.

Remember all who are sitting looking at an empty chair because love and togetherness has died and a routine of echoing sadness fills their home and days.

Remember those going without food today because they have chosen to feed their child or clothe their neighbour.

Remember those across our nation who have called our streets their place and our homes their hearth but whose love and loves are in a Ukrainian or foreign shore.

Remember those who feel no one knows their pain, hears their story or cares about their living.

Remembering is empty and is an action of avoidance unless it is accompanied by a focus to make memory real and to change the reality of pain. So as we remember let us focus with a renewed vigour on creating a tomorrow worthy of remembering.

Joy Haribo was appointed the United States poet laureate in June 2019, and is the first Native American poet laureate in the history of the position. She is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation and belongs to Oce Vpofv. Drawing on both her upbringing and cultural knowledge and studies Harjo’s life and poetry is grounded in the natural world and by a strong emphasis on the spiritual. She uses native chants and prayers in her poetry which evidences both a desire to memorialise and as a call to action for the creation of an environmental and human justice. One of my favourite Harjo poems is ‘Remember’ which calls us to recognise and rejuvenate with the connectedness of our belonging to the natural and relational world around us. Remembering has to be an act of loving.

Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

Remember by Joy Harjo – Poems | Academy of American Poets

Donald Macaskill

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed as I am these days. I just don’t feel in control of things anymore.” A reflection.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed as I am these days. I just don’t feel in control of things anymore.”

These are the words of a carer this past week. She is an unpaid carer for her husband who is living with a progressive and degenerative disease which sadly is terminal. She has been his wife, carer, confidant, and lover for a long time. She is well used to the highs and lows of his condition and his mood swings. She manages and relates with a degree of positivity and optimism that friends and family around think to be astonishing and remarkable. But things have been getting progressively harder and harder over the last few weeks and months. There are so many things which have been the straw to break her back of positivity – the withdrawal of Covid protective measures which now make her feel she is imprisoned in her own home because going out makes her feel she risks returning with the disease and killing her husband. Added to that is her anxiety over how she is going to be able to pay energy bills even after the promised assistance because being at home all the time in a Scottish winter costs a lot. Then there are the rising food costs, crazy prices 60-70 % more than a few weeks ago. But most of all she is just tired and weary. Family are great and friends supportive but especially in the long dark nights the relentlessness  of compassion costs her so much and it aches into her bones. But all the time she knows that the tick of an invisible clock brings her closer to the day when she will be alone and that perhaps more than anything else stresses her inside and out.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed as I am these days. I just don’t feel in control of things anymore.”

These words sum up quite a few of the conversations I’ve had in the last few days and weeks with professional paid staff both in homecare and in our care homes. On top of the struggles to pay the energy bills, or the petrol to get to work in the first place there are so many pressures and stresses which folks often don’t get. Caring is a job like no other – it costs you and those around you because you are continually giving and sharing. Care is not about the task of a hand or the function of something you do, but it is rather the sharing of a heart and the solidarity of being with another in good time and in ill. But the thought which has held heavy for so many I speak to is the fear of going into another winter. The last two have been so very hard but the unknown quantity of a resurgent Covid – because if you care you know the truth that Covid never left in the summer and is now getting worse – and the anxiety of a virulent flu – is freezing out hope and optimism. And yet perhaps the most acute anxiety and stress is that there are so many thousands who receive care support who are already struggling. Jane told me of making five visits to older people supported in their own home that morning and four of them had turned their heating off because they fear the bills. She is really worried that one day she will find someone has died from the cold. Caring is becoming harder by the day.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed as I am these days. I just don’t feel in control of things anymore.”

John runs the care home founded by his father and mother. He loved playing there as a child and getting to know so many older residents. They were and are his family. He went away and did many other things, but the pull of care took him home to this special place. After training and qualifications, he ended up becoming the manager. He has been in the trenches of despair and loss with residents and families over the last two years but when I spoke to him a few days ago it was the first time he was on the edge of tears. He simply cannot see any way that he can continue to hold onto the staff he has, to continue to deliver the quality care he wants, and at the same time pay the energy bulls which are (even after support) thousands of pounds more; agency staffing costs which for one night are the equivalent of paying for a nurse for a fortnight; and rising costs for food and other supplies. And unlike any other business he cannot turn the lights off, close the door for a day or charge more, not least as his main client, the local authority, pays the same amount as before. John is in tears because he feels he has no option than to close the home which has been so much part of his life – but he feels he needs to do so to make sure he keeps his residents safe this winter

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed as I am these days. I just don’t feel in control of things anymore.”

All these scenarios are illustrative of the very real stress those living with and in the world of social care are experiencing at this time. I was reflecting on so many more similar stories of stress being now experienced when I discovered that this coming Wednesday is the annual National Stress Awareness Day.

There are millions up and down the country who are feeling real stress and anxiety currently. The economic and political events of the last few weeks and months have added a real burden on to people and their communities. Such stress is deeply affecting the wellbeing of individuals and our society as a whole. Indeed, the Mental Health Foundation has stated that at some point in the last year, 74% of us have felt so stressed that we have felt unable to cope.

The experts tell us that stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. ‘Stress is your body’s reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats. This is sometimes called a “fight or flight” response. Your stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the pressure or threat has passed. But in the world of social care we seem to lurch from one stress trigger to another with little or no respite. ‘When stress is overwhelming it can cause other mental health problems, emotional exhaustion and physical illness and can impact on work, relationships, families, and every aspect of life. When someone is suffering from negative or overwhelming stress, they may not act or react normally in some situations, for example driving or in an argument, with disastrous consequences.’

I cannot but conclude at this time that the women and men who care, both paid and unpaid, and the managers, nurses and supervisors in care homes and homecare services are under the most immense and intense stress that I or they can remember. What such stress needs is practical and concerted political and societal action to both recognise the reality of the stress, identify solutions to it, and to address these with an urgency and immediacy.

As we turn back the clocks and enter the darker days and nights of the year, we have to offer a light of hope and positivity to folks who are in such dire anxiety and distress. Platitudinal actions and referring people to self-help wellbeing mechanisms will not suffice – it is time for society to get serious and to actively relieve the stress on those who care because they are beyond the point of resilience, they are now breaking.

Donald Macaskill