It was just under a year ago that I first became, along with many others I suspect, aware of the amazing poetry and insights of Amanda Gorman who you might remember delivering a breath-taking poem at the inauguration of President Biden. She has recently produced a book of poetry ‘Call Us What We Carry’ offering the same insightfulness and beauty. One of my favourites is ‘Ship’s Manifest’ which you can read and hear her recite in the New Yorker magazine.
It starts with these words:
Allegedly the worst is behind us.
Still, we crouch before the lip of tomorrow,
Halting like a headless hant in our own house,
Waiting to remember exactly
What it is we’re supposed to be doing…
To be accountable we must render an account:
Not what was said, but what was meant.
Not the fact, but what was felt.
What was known, even while unnamed.
Our greatest test will be
2021 has been an immensely challenging and hard year for so many both at an individual and societal level. That is perhaps especially true of those who use social care services, both care homes and homecare, unpaid carers, families, friends and the amazing health and care workforce.
Today as we start another year in the midst of a pandemic we are in Gorman’s words on the lip of tomorrow, and I am sure we all of us hope that as we move into 2022 it will be a year of restoration and renewal rather than retreat and yet more restriction. The challenge especially at the moment with Omicron is how we get from where we are to where we want and need to be. I am sure that I cannot be the only one who recognises that the months and year ahead has to be one that witnesses real change and difference. It is a year which proffers the possibility of sea change and reformation in the way we deliver social care in Scotland, and yet which also carries the risk of our dreams and aspirations running aground.
We will all have a different view of what is important in the coming months and year. For me I hope 2022 is a year of fairness. There are many definitions of what fairness means but I don’t think we need to depart far from the dictionary which describes fairness as ‘impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination.’
Fairness means that we treat all without discrimination. In 2022 we need to work for a social care system which recognises the needs of all and adequately prioritises all regardless of favouritism or discrimination. In truth I feel that has not always been the case and that social care much as with the rest of Scottish society is rife with age discrimination. I see the signs that we are still a society which considers value and contribution, capacity, and ability to have use-by dates. Any holistic community or equal and fair society must not only enable the voice of all to be heard but empower that voice to lead to change and creativity. I hope 2022 will see a deliberate challenge to the age discrimination we witness so frequently and seem to accept so casually.
Fairness means that you recognise the needs of all regardless of condition. In this regard I hope in 2022 we finally begin to challenge the discrimination, which means that should someone be unfortunate to be diagnosed with dementia then they will receive unequal treatment through the failure to recognise their condition and the required support as healthcare and not social care needs. For too long people living with dementia and their families have been the object of societal and fiscal discrimination compared to so many others. We must end the dementia scandal in 2022.
Fairness means that we will really enact what we all know to be fair work practices. Everyone I know talks the talk of fairness in the workplace. We all know that if we are serious about valuing the work and role of care in our society that we need to properly reward and recognise our frontline workers. This involves not just increasing baseline salaries but ensuring that other terms and conditions are adequate and fair. So, for instance, I really doubt anyone using the scales of fairness would say that the continued practice of electronically monitoring frontline homecare staff is anything but iniquitous and unfair.
Fairness means that we adequately resource the delivery of care and support to those who need it. I hope against hope that 2022 will see the dramatic increase in financial allocation which is required to give Scotland a human rights-based, person-led and dignity-infused delivery of both homecare and care home services. The home care sector is on its knees and so many organisations providing excellent care are likely to go out of business in the next year not because what they deliver is poor but because the Government fails to adequately resource contracts that value the care they deliver. This in no small way is a crunch year for home care and also our care homes. After years of dispute and disagreement the much-lauded National Care Home Contract which indicates what the State is prepared to pay for care home provision, (and in very real detail) is in the last chance saloon. Negotiations around this are currently taking place but when all is said and done, they are about fairness. At the heart of these discussions is how much does central (and not just local) value those who receive residential and nursing home care and support and those who care for them? In this regard I should not need to remark that fairness means not just paying the carer adequately but ensuring that they have the resources, facilities and sustainable services which enable them to deliver that care and support.
Fairness means everything in social care. But perhaps it especially means a recognition of the distinctive and unique contribution which social care makes. Good social care, which is well-resourced, recognised and valued, enables individual citizens to flourish and thrive, to grow into and celebrate their identity and belonging in community. So I hope 2022 will see the acceptance of care as a national priority and as a National Outcome. Social care has to be seen not as an appendage to a health care system but as a distinct set of professions, services and supports which are deserving of equal respect and value.
On the lip of 2022 we have the prospect of walking the talk and turning rhetoric into reality. In a year that will see the start of the Covid Public Inquiry, new legislation to establish a National Care Service and potentially a new Human Rights Act, doubtless yet more challenge posed by Covid, and sadly I suspect an increasingly strained and drained social care workforce and provider body, then the year has no few challenges ahead of itself. But in meeting those challenges I have absolutely no doubt that seeking fairness in all we do should be at the heart of a social care response to 2022. Fair treatment, fair resourcing, fair work and fair contracting all together and not apart deliver fair care. 2022 needs to be the year of Fair Care.
Though we are undoubtedly all tired as we stand on the lip of tomorrow I hope we can be awake, alive and strong enough to welcome a new way of being and doing social care, a new morning for a new day, a new start for a new year. As the poet invites us to be open ourselves to the light and brilliance of a new morning:
‘It creeps towards the day
like a teenager
returning home from a night out,
trying not to wake a house
asleep in its dreaming;
but clumsy with the unfamiliar dark
stumbling drunkenly through the door.
It slips through the curtain crack
like an inquisitive puppy
sneaking round the corners of a room,
searching for that smell of strange newness;
seeking unexplored place,
sniffing out new danger and adventure.
It caresses the sky
like a lover
discovering the joy of being safe,
relishing the moment of a place
where words are not needed;
when touch is enough to share
all that is warm and wanted.
It splinters the tired night
like a spring of water
crashing down a summer hillside,
renewing the parched and cracked earth,
gushing into familiar patterns,
with a fresh vigour and cleansing air.
unheralded in the midst of
a dark and slumbering night;
creeping into the day,
slipping into the hour.
caressing the moment,
renewing the tired;
and this day
sparkle our sameness with purpose,
lighten our familiarity with newness,
surprise our conformity with revolution,
renew our tiredness with morning light.’