Change comes from passion: a reflection on avoiding the landfill site of social care hope

Behind every policy and legislation there is often a passion and a movement; behind every change there is frequently a vision and an aspiration. The world of social care and social work in Scotland is no less than any other sector. We have plenty of aspiration and hope, expectation and possibility.

The creators of the seminal and ground-breaking Social Work Scotland (1968) Act were inspired by the realities of deprivation, harm and failure evidenced in the 1950s and 60s across a Scotland impoverished by the trauma of war and the failed priorities of consecutive Westminster administrations.

The disability civil rights movements of the 1960s through to the 1980s declared that all people regardless of disability had equal rights to belong, to be included, to be heard and to be valued. They inspired and influenced policies such as ‘The Same As You?’ (2000) which led many of us to be involved in the closure of our long stay hospitals. And with an adequately resourced Change Fund it enabled a process of people with disabilities beginning to be included in their communities not shut away from belonging; it gave voice to people so that they could articulate their story and their hope; it rooted in practice and policy a change in orientation which recognised that it was mainstream society that disabled individual contribution rather than the labels and conditions by which we imprisoned individuals in asylums.

The desire to have control and choice, to be able to take charge of your own social care support and care, to be freed from the presumption that the Nanny State knows best and delivers best, to be able to become the director of your own decisions, all  under the umbrella of the independent living movement was that which provided the energy and spark which brought about perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in social care legislation and policy in the form of the Social Care (Self-directed Support) Act in 2013. Being present at the Ministerial launch I recall the passion and hope, aspiration and creative possibilities of designing a better tomorrow from the recognition that things were broken.

So too the creation of what became known as a health and social care ‘integration’ policy enshrined in the somewhat dry and limiting Public Bodies (Joint Working) legislation in 2014 – was centred around the aspiration that there would be one continuous pathway from first point of contact with social work all the way through support and care whether in hospital, community or care home, all the way to the end of an individual’s life. The dream and vision was that a person should not have to tell their story to multiple people, should not have to undergo multiple assessments which detailed and described the same thing because data was not transferred, professionals did not communicate and systems did not speak. Integration was primarily and always motivated by a vision of the person, the citizen, at the centre having control and agency.

Then most recently we have had the huge amount of commitment and shared vision and desire which made the Independent Review of Adult Social Care – also known as the Feeley Report – into a document whose words came off the page and painted a picture of possibility for the future of social care delivery in Scotland. It is a document which attempted to live up to the vision of a new beginning rooted in the at times painful experience of the pandemic and before. It was a vision of human rights and choice, of person-led agency and support, of contracts and commissioning of services which were equitable and fair, of reward and recognition of care as a career of potential – and so much more. It was less concerned with the structure more interested in the soul, less about the model more focussed on the energy.

The landscape of social work and social care in Scotland is indeed rich in movements of change and in voices of challenge. There is enough in text and legislation to motivate and inspire. The problem has always been implementation – the challenge and the failures have always been our ability to drain the vision from the text, to limit the possibility which progressive legislation offers. The sin has been to be tempted to make the system and the model, the vested interests of power and traditional practice, the familiarity of the known and the predictable – into the gods of the moment.

Our ‘implementation gap’ as Feeley termed it, has been the pit down which many an initiative, so much creativity, and so many hopes and aspirations have fallen. It is a deep hole but not an accidental one and it can be filled in!

This last week in so many conversations I have heard voices of fear and anxiety being raised about what the future of social care supports and social work might look like in Scotland. I share those very genuine fears and concerns but knowing and naming them, calling them out and recognising the risks, is part of the way in which we can avoid failing to live up to the aspirations which so many have articulated and so many hold.

The most obvious fear and this is well represented in much of the feedback and analysis in the consultation to the National Care Service is that we become so obsessed with the structures and systems, with the models and processes, with the titles and power-bases of a creating a massive new system that we lose sight of the vision and the energy which is necessary to ground real change into felt reality.

The First Minister has on a number of occasions articulated her desire to bring from the hurt of the pandemic a change which will be worthy of that pain – the creation of a National Care Service. A noble aspiration but one which has risks of falling into that implementation hole well before the summit of promise is reached.

One of those risks, I believe, is that the energy that directs success has to be fed by a proper awareness of what social care is and is not. Social care is not health care – we certainly do not want a shadow of the National Health System – and any attempt to achieve that would be a crippling failure and a massive denial of the hopes of those who use, work and deliver social care services and supports. We have all of us to be aware of and defensive against the creeping medicalisation and clinicalisation of social care and social work delivery. Such is an anathema to individual choice, citizen control, personal agency and an approach which is about enabling participation not fostering dependency, nurturing citizenship not limiting contribution. Social care can never be the maidservant of a National Health Service. What we want are the principles of choice and individual control, of independence and real engagement and involvement, of participation and personal control to be at the heart of what grows out of the next few years.

The danger is that legislation can either strangle aspiration or even if well formed can falter at the point of implementation. Integration became a bun fight between two goliaths – the NHS and local authorities – with Health and Social Care Partnerships the emasculated body in the middle and with Chief Officers engaged in a constant referee match between vested fiscal interests and power dynamics. As someone who examined why integration did not work – a lot of the time – the system failed the people by failing to make hard decisions when they were needed and failing to bring order to chaos when it occurred. Instead of the dream of integration with the person at the centre of a continuous pathway of consistent support and care – we have shamefully disappointed the dream.

Even if we get the legislation right – as we certainly did in the Self-directed Support Act – again the gap of implementation where fiscal limits and austerity, where power bases in senior management at local level, led to an inevitable suffocating of promise and a marginalising of creativity. Even today I hear the ridiculous scenario where people talk about SDS on the one hand and social care assessment and provision on the other – there is and should only be one way of accessing social care and that is through self-directed support. There is no excuse – and for my area of interest especially for older people – of citizens being denied the choice, budgetary control, individual say over which provider you want – in any place in Scotland today. Yet the reality is that in so many places choice is based on what age you are, who you know, what party colour the local authority political leadership is, and how much of a battle the local HSCP has managed to wage against the Big Two. We have shamefully disappointed the dream.

The next few weeks and months will be critical for the formation of the National Care Service and the much wider hopes and dreams of the Feeley Review. The concerns and fears I am hearing are that we will focus so much on structure and process that we lose the passion and purpose. We will be so concerned on achieving the model that we will lose sight of the necessity to really involve and include, engage and engender the energy of the people who need to make that journey with us. There is a real fear that the necessary leadership with real world knowledge rather than acquired  awareness to achieve this change is simply not there either politically or operationally. Such leadership demands inclusivity and involvement, not partisanship and a failure to engage. There are too many whispers and behind the door conversations. Indeed, this is perhaps especially the case in the bringing together of health and social care – especially the providers of the latter – a reality that in the last calendar year has barely happened at all. Meaningful change is never achieved by siloed management.

There has always been an energy and movement in social care across Scotland. It is one at its best that has mirrored our humanity and hospitable concern for the other, to include and involve all, to be open to the challenge of the new and the creativity of the different. It is a social care world which has rooted equality and fairness, human rights and dignity at the heart of all that is delivered. It is also one which has authentically talked the talk and been real rather than fictional whether that be about fiscal reality or delivery challenge.

We are about to start a whole series of political debates on the creation of a National Care Service – in these I hope our leaders will listen, not to the rhetoric of political echo chambers, but to the people who use social care supports, the workers who deliver them, and the providers and employers who are the organisations by whose agency most social care support is enabled.

When all is said and done change is born out of a vision of betterment and of new possibility, of a new and better way of being and belonging, of caring and compassion. The current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage in his poem ‘A Vision’ warns of the possibilities of our visions landing in the landfill site of disappointment. But the way we prevent the architectural dreams of a changed world becoming the missed opportunity of our future, is to work hard; to involve all; to listen deeply; to learn openly and to create together rather than apart. The future of social care deserves no less.


A Vision

by Simon Armitage

The future was a beautiful place, once.

Remember the full-blown balsa-wood town

on public display in the Civic Hall.

The ring-bound sketches, artists’ impressions,


blueprints of smoked glass and tubular steel,

board-game suburbs, modes of transportation

like fairground rides or executive toys.

Cities like dreams, cantilevered by light.


And people like us at the bottle-bank

next to the cycle-path, or dog-walking

over tended strips of fuzzy-felt grass,

or model drivers, motoring home in


electric cars, or after the late show –

strolling the boulevard. They were the plans,

all underwritten in the neat left-hand

of architects – a true, legible script.


I pulled that future out of the north wind

at the landfill site, stamped with today’s date,

riding the air with other such futures,

all unlived in and now fully extinct.


From:  Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid

Copyright ©:  Simon Armitage

A Vision poem – Simon Armitage poems | Best Poems (


Donald Macaskill





Last Updated on 19th February 2022 by donald.macaskill