Messages made with care

by Neil Crowther
 
Since we began in 2018, #SocialCareFuture has highlighted the power of narrative to act as an enabler or barrier to building the future we want to see.  Inspired by other social movements, we set about co-developing a fresh vision and story of change, and then testing and refining it via public audience research
 
It’s been great to see that vision fill the space it was intended to, adopted or adapted now by, among others, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Care, The Local Government Association, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Labour Party and numerous local councils.   
 
The vision centres on the lives we should all be able to lead and the role of well organised social care therein, underpinned by values of self-direction, community and belonging.
 
Sadly this year, numerous high-profile campaigns concerning the social care workforce have adopted a very different framing, often depicting care work as challenging, risky and unrewarding to win political and public support for improved pay and conditions.  Or they’ve emphasised ‘vacancies’ and the risk these pose for ‘the sector’, not opportunities to work to support people to live good lives.  Previous Department for Health and Social Care campaigns have also generally failed to offer a compelling vision of what social care supports people to be and do, centring instead on the ‘qualities’ needed to ‘care’.
That’s why it so positive to see the new social care recruitment campaign from the Department for Health and Social Care ‘Made with Care’.

The ad centres on the role of support in people pursuing their own life goals and on care work being about being alongside and supporting people.  Those drawing on support are not rendered objects of care, but as agents in their own lives, their personhood and identity at the heart of the story and what matters most.  What is depicted is relational, not transactional. The ads are bright, colourful and warm.  They’re full of – dare we say it – love.  
 
Ah, you say, but we still have to point to all the bad things.  Yes, we do, but as the late Sir Bert Massie said of promoting the rights of disabled people ‘only high expectations shine a light on injustice.’  Debates about social care are trapped by and feed the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that plague the lives of disabled people, and which underpin ageism, or attitudes to people living with dementia, and which in turn devalue social care support and those working in the field.  If our campaigns for change feed those low expectations we will continue to fail.  If instead we start by depicting what great social care support can and should mean, using basic techniques that command shared values and build a sense of a ‘larger us’ rather than ‘them and us’, then it is far easier to highlight the injustice involved.  This way, when social care is failing it is not about people ‘not being cared for’, but people not being able to lead their life on an equal basis with everyone else.  That framing also allows us to far more powerfully convey the value of working to support others to lead their lives and to make the case for better pay and conditions.  In turn it enables us to link together narratives about how a failure to invest on social care prevents both those with cause to draw on support and those working in the field from enjoying a decent life, as can be seen in this US advert.
 
With these ads, DHSC has offered a ‘North Star’.  Let’s now hope this vision suffuses the forthcoming White Paper with the same sense of possibility, and motivates others with an interest in changing social care to think about the role of their own communications in building a brighter future for those that have cause to draw on or who work in social care.
 
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