More than a service: the essence of social care

Two colleagues, Dr Tara French and Imogen Caird, have this past week published what I consider to be one of the best papers on social care reform in Scotland that I have read for a very long time. ‘Time for Change: Conceptualising a National Care Framework’ is not long but packs a punch of impact and insight and is well worth a read.

One of their central arguments is that rather than so much debate and focus being placed upon a National Care Service what we should be considering, debating and engaging others on is the concept of a National Care Framework. Now lest that seem like a semantic argument they express their point thus:

“The connotation of language has huge implications for how people understand or conceptualise proposed change. The use of the word ‘service’ implies a relationship and role of providing and receiving, perpetuating transaction between people providing and people accessing support. In defining and describing the conceptualisation of a future of social care, there is a need to carefully select language that emphasises the mutual, relational and outcomes-focused mindset to set a precedent for how people may interact with such a concept. As has been reinforced in many policies related to health and social care over the years, there is a need to shift away from transactional models of care and support towards collaborative, relational approaches which are developed in true partnership with the people they are designed to support. From a rights-based perspective, people have a right to be informed about the options and choices they can make with regards to decisions about their own health, social care and wellbeing. “

As well as highlighting the dangers of a casual association with the National ‘Health’ Service Trench and Caird rightly articulate in their paper that we must recognise that the NHS and any potential National Care Service have to be fundamentally different from one another because in essence they are completely unalike. Failure to recognise the distinctiveness of social care as opposed to healthcare lies at the root of many wasted interventions and failed initiatives.

Social care is more than a service – it encapsulates the essence of a person-to-person support and care relationship. When we are thinking of social care, we need to reflect on the core principles and characteristics which have long been recognised and accepted. As Scotland begins in the next few weeks to consider what we want for the future it might be worth spending a brief time reflecting on those principles and characteristics.

In 2014 my own organisation Scottish Care was one of the many signatories to a Statement on the Principles and Values of Self-directed Support. Now I know in some quarters self-directed support has received a negative press and in others is seen as an option rather than as the only route in which social care should be being received in Scotland today. Nevertheless, its underpinning principles which are enshrined in Scottish legislation are, I would suggest, an excellent description of the essence of what social care is and should always be. They describe a relationship rather than a service. Social care support is about creating independence not fostering a dependency on others or upon services. Fostering independence and the strength, and sometimes the courage, that comes with it requires the building of relationships of trust, honesty, authenticity and reciprocity. It demands an exchange which empowers the supported person rather than validates the needs of the care-giver or commissioner of that care support.

The principles of Self-directed Support both as a legislative set of rights and a descriptor of the process of social care delivery underpin such a relational dynamic at the heart of social care support. They are about collaboration, dignity, informed choice, involvement, participation, innovation, responsibility and risk enablement. Any future model or framework of social care in Scotland has to speak to these principles or it has nothing to say of value.

An individual’s right to dignity in the support and care they receive does not just happen by casual circumstance but through deliberate action, planning and support.

The person needs to be able to know what they do not know, to be given information about their rights, about their options and what is available to them, in a way that they understand, at a time that suits best, and with the assistance that they may require. In no small measure the mess of social care delivery in Scotland and the failure of the Self-directed Support Act to date has been as a result of failed information, poor communication and an echoing absence of a commitment to public and national information. To know, to be informed, is to be empowered and we have as a whole community failed to empower those who require to exercise their rights to social care support. We have been silent too long about the individual rights of people in Scotland to access care support, to take control and exercise personal choice.

There is still too much within traditional social care delivery which retains power and control at the point of professional commissioners and providers of that care support. True collaboration and co-production enable people to be involved in a real and meaningful way, not as a tick-box exercise but as a dynamic that alters the relationship between the person receiving support and care and those paying for it and providing it. We have a long way to go in so many parts of Scotland before we achieve such a dynamic.

I hear of too many instances where a professional assumes that they know best, that they know the outcomes an individual wants to achieve for their life. The real radical strength of the SDS Act was its replacement of a system which assessed what you needed with a process that was about helping you to achieve what you required and wanted in order for you to be able to play your full part as a member and citizen of your local community and country. We have failed in large measure to achieve this and to really trust people to know best, to enable and own their own risk taking, and to have control over the activities and supports that would enrich their lives.

All the above-mentioned principles are the lifeblood of any social care framework and should be at the beating heart of any envisaged National Care Service. We have for too long concentrated on the model and not the meaning, focussed on the mechanics and not the rhythm, centred our concern on the sustainability of the system rather than the flourishing of the individual who receives support and care. Until that changes and until a system of governance and professional influence allows it to change then we will never deliver person-led, rights-based, citizen-controlled social care in Scotland.

I was reminded of the essence of care and support this last week when on Care Home Day (last Wednesday) someone sent me Lee McCurley’s poem called ‘Caregiver’

“I am the caregiver, the watcher, the guide
I walk down the hall with you by my side
a smile, a laugh, a hug or embrace
I watch the worry fall away from your face
I am the caregiver, the watcher, the guide
I walk down the hall with you by my side
I am your compass, your shinning north star
I try to remind you of just who you are
I am the caregiver, the watcher, the guide
I walk down the hall with you by my side
Pictures and letters, music of old
keep your mind warm and away from the cold
I am the caregiver, the watcher, the guide
I walk down the hall with you by my side
the routine of night shows no wear and tear
the light of the morning so soon will be here.”

That is a reflective and, in many ways, insightful piece but the relationship of care and support is not a one-way street but a contra flow of compassion; it is not constant giving but a frequent sharing; it is not always doing for but receiving more.

I have lost count of the folks who over the years have said to me that they care and offer support because it makes them who they are; they cannot imagine doing something else. Now that is not to excuse the pitiful neglect and abandonment of social care workers in regard to their reward and remuneration, their terms and conditions, but it is to acknowledge without embarrassment and apology that to care and support another is ‘more than a job’ it is the essence of our humanity. That is why it needs to be esteemed and valued as the essence of our economy. That is why as we frame the future of social care in Scotland the empowering, relational dynamic of care support needs to replace a transactional, functionalist model which is based on financial value rather than human benefit. Social care support is more than a service it is a way to life.

Donald Macaskill



Last Updated on 23rd July 2021 by Shanice