This is Alex Fox's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?
For some time now, social care in the UK has been all about independent living: helping younger disabled people to move into their own homes; helping older people to stay in their own homes. That’s going brilliantly (people who would have been written off and locked away are now living in their own places, employing their own staff and even setting up enterprises) and badly (new bureaucracies dressed up as transformation, ever-increasing expectations upon families, support reserved for the most needy).
It’s a very mixed and complex picture, but if I were to nominate just one test for success, it would be whether people find not only independence but also, a sense of belonging. A system which once warehoused people now recognizes individuals’ rights, dreams and destinies. The systems designed to drive ‘personalisation’ don’t always work, but the goal remains right.
However, to be treated and to live as an individual is necessary, rather than sufficient, for a good life. We are a consumerist society, so it’s not surprising that we’ve seen individual purchasing rights as the key to self-determination. But is it coincidence that, alongside consumerism, we also have an epidemic of loneliness?
Too often we describe independent living as living alone: not something most of us aspire to. My day job is developing and supporting Shared Lives, a form of care and support in which people are matched with registered Shared Lives carers, to share family and community life, living as part of an ordinary household, rather than within a service. Shared Lives can be a stepping stone to your own place or an alternative to traditional short breaks, but it can also be a way of finding a place to settle: a home – and a community – where you feel like you belong. One of the keys to that sense of belonging is that people who live in Shared Lives are seen as contributing to their relationships just as much as their Shared Lives carer. In other words, everyone has responsibilities for other people. That is also true of the older and disabled people who set up their own micro-scale enterprises, another strand of our work.
Having responsibilities as well as rights is essential to be a full citizen, who belongs in her/his community. ‘Taking responsibility’ is often very narrowly understood as meaning earning money and not using state benefits. Some people will always require state support to live a good life, but that good life may remain elusive without that feeling of belonging, which only comes when you feel responsible for others’ well-being as well as for your own. So, promoting a sense of belonging is about building upon the rights agenda towards a responsibilities agenda, where ‘having responsibilities’ is about more than just money and is not out of reach for anyone. When we decide that a group of adults have no responsibilities, we may protect them from some of life’s risks, but we take huge risks with their citizenship and, subtly perhaps, we tell them they don’t fully belong.
Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012? on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, Richard Bridge, Ted Kuntz and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.