A future beyond social care needs its own ‘net zero’

Neil Crowther, Co-convener, Social Care Future
With support from Hallmark Foundation and Seeability, Social Care Future has begun to explore what a long-range campaign might look like to shift our collective imagination and expectations in support of a future beyond our current ‘social care system’. 
We are not starting from scratch.  Our vision offers the ‘North star’. There are countless ‘glimpses of the future in the present.’ And we are a broad and growing movement, born of frustration but powered by hope.
Of late we’ve been looking at what we can learn from other movements and campaigns for change and in September we’ll be running a number of hour-long sessions with movement and campaign leaders from diverse fields.
Particularly helpful is IPPR’s 2021 report ‘Making change: what works’ which compares and contrasts efforts to shift public opinion and policy across a number of areas including climate, LGBT rights, race equality and on the social determinants of health.  There’s a wealth of learning in the report, but three things stood out:
  • The need to act across multiple ‘leverage points’ with deep change often only emerging when the public and politicians are persuaded to adopt a new goal, and where clear accountability is established for progressing towards it
  • The value of a simple, totemic policy goal, which, though not encompassing the entirety of your aims and objectives, acts to shift expectations, mindsets and culture and give effect to wider change. Net Zero and Equal Marriage are two examples of this.   More immediately relevant to social care would be the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia.
  • The importance of a healthy, pluralistic ‘influencing ecosystem’ where various actors exist in various states of tension or complementarity, which the report breaks down into ‘rebels’, ‘reformers’, ‘organisers’ and ‘helpers’. We’ve been struck reading the report that, as with action on the social determinants of health, social care’s ‘ecosystem’ is dominated by reformers and helpers, but weak when it comes to ‘rebels’ (examples in the climate space are Extinction Rebellion). Generally there is little ‘protest’ of any kind concerning social care, nor organised voice of people who draw on support.
So what might these lessons suggest for any campaign movement emerging out of Social Care Future? 
First, that to achieve our vision, we need to build cross societal support to change the goals.  No one need doubt the Herculean effort of many councils and providers to keep the current show on the road, but let’s face it, it’s not going anywhere.  Social care as it stands is not working towards anything. 
It hasn’t always been like that.  During the 2000s and following the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit report on the Life Chances of the Disabled People and the subsequent Independent Living Strategy, the Office for Disability Issues had begun to measure disabled people’s self-reported feelings of having choice and control and being able to participate in society, with a clear view that these should improve over time. 
We need to regain that ambition.  While I share others’ misgivings that the word ‘wellbeing’ fosters mental association with scented candles and mindfulness, I still feel the concept itself offers the most helpful orientation towards which progress can be oriented and a shift in imagination and expectations can be brought about. In sum, a shift away from focusing on ‘care’ towards ‘living well’.  Doing so provides a way to circumvent the ‘othering’ that plagues how social care is thought and talked about.    
We are already halfway there, given the overarching duty of councils under the Care Act 2014 is to promote individual wellbeing.  A new statutory goal, shared by national and local government, and integrated care boards, would anticipate measurable progress in improving health and wellbeing across local populations, with local assets and resources marshalled towards those ends.   This would create the accountability that ‘net zero’ represents, which in turn would create the conditions and incentives for innovation towards those ends, through a new covenant between people and communities, the voluntary sector, business, national and local government and other public bodies
This would require broad support, even if some of that support is tacit, or in the form of alignment rather than full blooded endorsement.  Different actors in the influencing ecosystem, from charities and providers, to think tanks, academics, trades unions and professional bodies all have a role to play.  This was a chief lesson from the ‘Every Australian Counts’ campaign which successfully campaigned for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 
Social Care Future has a clear role to play here as an organiser and convener.  But a major gap also needs filling, in the space IPPR refers to as ‘rebels.’  It is already part of our strategy to help build the power and voice of people who draw on support to live their lives, with some success via initiatives such as ‘the pledge’.  But this requires a step change beyond what we are presently doing, and we hope it’s something that progressive funders might get behind, recognising people who draw on support and their families as a nascent social justice movement in its own right, ripe for investment and support. 
This is just a bit of early thinking and we’ll be developing it over the coming weeks and months.  We strongly welcome views and ideas about what this could become.  Please join the sessions next month or get in touch.
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