In this guest blog, Anna Dixon, Co-Chair of the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care and previously the Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, argues that we need to do more than just fix social care. Social care is defined as help for individuals who need support with everyday living. With the pandemic having exposed the cracks in the social care system, Anna argues that we must now reimagine social care, in a way that recognises the importance and value of community.

Another day, another delay to social care reform. It is over 20 years since a Royal Commission was set up to put forward proposals for reform of social care. Here we are in 2021 and fundamentally nothing has changed. Very little of the 2014 Care Act, which broadly followed the proposals made by Andrew Dilnot in his 2011 report, was actually implemented—caused by a combination of local authority cuts and decisions to delay the implementation of funding reforms.

The consequence of two decades of delay and inaction by successive governments has been writ large by the pandemic. People struggling to get the care and support they need, families having to bear the brunt of caring for loved ones, and care workers exposed to higher rates of infection and death in large part due to a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The fundamental elements of the post-war welfare state remain largely unchanged. For those with care needs defined as ‘medical’, there is a universal National Health Service which treats everyone regardless of income and wealth. While for those who need help with everyday living, defined as ‘social care’—whether the result of a disability or conditions such as dementia or old age—services are heavily rationed, available only to those with the highest levels of need and with little or no wealth (including the value of your home).

Social care has struggled to shrug off the legacy of the Poor Law—Victorian legislation that resulted in those who were unfit to work and those that were poor, including the infirm and the elderly, being admitted to the workhouse, often ending their days in squalor and misery. If as a society we are to care for all, we need nothing short of a reimagining of care.

A radical vision for care

Therefore, I have accepted the invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to chair a commission on reimagining care. Inspired by Archbishop Justin Welby’s book, Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, we are tasked with developing a radical vision of care, informed by values that draw on Christian theology and ethics.

The pandemic has fundamentally rewritten many aspects of our lives. As we rebuild Britain, we also need to reimagine it. In his book, Justin Welby recognises that ‘a reimagination of Britain as a country in which human beings flourish has to put high quality social care … at the heart of its objectives.’

In order to reimagine care, I believe it is vital to go beyond the narrow view of care as a public service, as something provided by the state (or not), and instead to recognise the importance and value of community in enabling people to live well with disability, at whatever age and stage of life. Communities of all shapes and sizes have a key role to play.

The commission will be considering the role of church and other faith groups, as well as the role of other communities of identity and place, in supporting people to live well with disability and into old age. Charities and the voluntary sector are already doing so much to both support and engage people in community life. We see this as a key part of reimagining care, and we would love to hear from you if you have examples from which we can learn and share.

My own hopes for the commission are firstly that it will create momentum for change. We intend to publish our report in September next year. The next 12 months are critical if the stasis of the past 20 years is to finally end in 2022. We need a shift in public attitudes if we are to demand change from political leaders. We want to be part of a social movement, working with other organisations to bring about change.

Secondly, I want the commission to amplify the voices of people of all ages living with disabilities and their carers, both paid and unpaid. Care and caring affects all of us—our friends, colleagues, neighbours, partners, parents, and grandparents. The future of care also affects our future selves. We want to listen to stories of both pain and hope, to understand where things have gone wrong but also to identify the seeds of new beginnings from which a better future can grow.

Ultimately, we hope to bring a fresh perspective that focuses on the fundamental purpose of care, rooted in love for our neighbours, and to set out what is required to enable us all to flourish as human beings, regardless of age or disability.

If you would like to find out more about the Archbishops’ commission and stay in touch with our work over the next 12 months, please visit the website or email us to sign up to our regular updates.

Charities are already working hard to support and engage people in community life. We need to reimagine social care, in a way that recognises the importance and value of this work: Click To Tweet

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