Hope rooted in action: a social care spring.

As I write this Scotland is enduring one of its unique weather days – torrential rain falling from a virtually cloudless blue sky, and no doubt a northerly gale will soon be blowing accompanied by hail or sleet!

It’s a time of year when my love of gardening gets stretched to the point of all patience being lost as I wait for propitious conditions to do all those seasonal tasks which dare not be done lest a spring frost arrives to destroy all effort and energy.

I’ve always been in admiration of my forebears who were farmers and crofters and who managed to live their lives in thrall to the vicissitudes of nature yet who always seemed to maintain a positivity about life. For whom the rhythm of the seasons had a predictability of renewal and a harvesting of hope but for all of whom effort, hard work and action were the ingredients of tomorrow.

I think anyone working in social care at the present time needs such a positivity despite circumstance. In the last few weeks I’ve heard of immoral fiscal savings resulting in someone in their 90s having a long term package of homecare removed with less than 72 hours’ notice; I’ve heard of someone entering end of life care 9 months after they requested a care home place yet no assessment was looking at all likely as happening any time soon; I’ve heard of a coach and horses being driven through the legal rights of supported individuals to choice, personal autonomy and independence and all in the name of public sector protectionism. Whether it is from an Audit Scotland report or the messages and calls I get weekly from those on the frontline I personally fear that Scotland’s social care sector has never faced such a perilous state of affairs.

And all of this angst and heartache in our communities is being played out against a backdrop of budgets being passed at national and local level bringing yet more cuts and ‘savings’ (dressed up in the language of efficiency and best value), and the refrain of a political pretence of normality playing in the background accompanied by a Neronic reframing of reform of systems and processes as the solution to all present troubles.

Few would now deny that the social care system is broken beyond calculation and that it is getting worse every day in every part of Scotland, and by system I don’t mean models or frameworks I mean a legion of supports and care which keeps people alive and offers the prospect of a life worth living. I have little doubt that in the next few weeks and months lives will be cut short or even lost because of the breakdown of social care support in our communities. And for those who might accuse me of melodrama I would invite them to come and walk in my shoes and hold the hard conversations I’m holding.

We’ve entered March – indeed yesterday was the start of meteorological spring, but the gloom and negativity seems all encompassing. And I’ll be honest it’s hard personally to shake myself out of my own sense of depression and fear at the state of things. It’s hard to listen to someone on the phone telling you that they are having to lay off staff not because there is a lack of care work to do out there but because the local authority has decided that only those at high risk can receive care anymore because they have run out of money. It’s really hard not to feel a sense of hopelessness and worry that things will only get worse and all the time echoing in the background are the sounds of political soundbites saying ‘ it’ll be alright tomorrow when we reform things’ or simply an attitude which suggests ‘there is nothing to see here, just move along’

In thinking of what to write this week I have walked in the rain, the cold and sun and become aware of the seasons in an even more acute sense. I have recalled the lives of grandparents and others who got up every morning in darkness, struggled against elements throughout the day, and with weary bones rested through the night to start it all over again – and all their efforts were to birth growth in the barrenness of emptiness, to bring forth fields of corn and a pen full of lambs and calves. Despite all the hardness and trouble theirs was a regularity of practical hope in the midst of cold hard reality.

My mind has also turned to the fact that one of my favourite ‘days’ is happening later this week, on the 7th we will be celebrating World Book Day. Regular readers will know how I find in words, in prose and poetry, a source of solace and insight, and how getting lost in the world of words and stories can help me (and others I know) find direction and hope.

Words escape from the pages and can create insight and illumination which can proffer change and renewal, give you the inkling of a new direction to follow, or simply the strength to remain true.

In one of those many bits of reading in the last few weeks I re-read some of the Words of the Day which Susie Dent produces in book and social media form. One I think captures the necessary spirit of the moment (for me at least) and that is the 16th century word ‘respair’, which means fresh hope, and a recovery from despair.

The delivery of social care in Scotland, in care home and homecare, amongst staff and managers, within providers and commissioners, needs its own time of respair , we desperately need to recover from the despair of cuts and reductions, from withdrawal and entrenchment. But that will only happen not at the hands of building utopian systems and frameworks, models or systems, but on the ground in the hands of the women and men who every day make a difference because of their compassionate care and support. We need to work through the blasts of this wintertime to find the energies to plant hope into our actions so that we can harvest a new way of being and doing that renews people. There is so much that is gloriously wonderful in what is happening every day across the country, I really hope in all the talk of change and restriction, of cutbacks and removal, we do not lose sight of the essence of social care.

But our optimism and hope must be grounded in the reality of the hard work that is needed to enable flourishing and fruitfulness to happen. We do not build our tomorrows on the dreams of the night but on the visions of the daytime; visions of a tomorrow better than our moment.

I love so much of what Julia Donaldson writes, and her poem ‘I Opened a Book’ reminds me that escape as I will on World Book Day and on many other nights, we all need to come back to ourselves; and for social care that means not soundbites and systems, but re-discovering the priorities of care in season and out. We need to find respair.

‘I Opened a Book’

I opened a book and in I strode
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

Taken from I Opened A Book by Julia Donaldson – Scottish Poetry Library

Donald Macaskill