Think global, act … personal: a sustainable future for social care

Catherine Max is an independent consultant specialising in sustainable health and social care.  Since 2009, she has led the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s Sustainable Social Care programme, funded by the Department of Health.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) is working with partners in the sector to promote sustainable development in social care.  One question which arose early on in the Sustainable Social Care programme was:  could personalisation stimulate the market for more sustainable care services?  As researchers from the Institute for Sustainability, Health and Environment suggest ‘If several people receiving community meals in the same street choose different providers this could lead to increased environmental impact and transport costs. However, community-based models of personalisation … have great potential to facilitate the development of care and support that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Last year, SCIE collaborated with Bristol City Council to explore the implications of personalisation for sustainability and test the appetite in the community for more sustainable approaches. We used a sustainable development framework to probe issues spanning housing, transport and the public realm as well as care itself. Our rationale was that this would engender a holistic understanding of needs across the life-course as opposed to a response to a care need at a particular time.

‘We need ways to humanise the community.’ (workshop participant)

Perhaps our most striking finding was that people were generally familiar with and positive about sustainable development, but struggled with personalisation. Additionally, enabling people to talk about their lives in the round opened up creative discussions about the future of care, generating simple and low-cost ideas, likely to promote independent living and care which is community-based.  One often quoted example was the Bedminster Older People’s Forum’s Toilets and Benches Map.

‘Local [service provision] is important as it’s a tie to the community.’ (workshop participant)

In all our discussions, high value was also placed on a good quality environment suitable for all ages and circumstances i.e. the community as a whole. A strong theme to emerge was that of ‘connectivity’ between both people and places:  diverse and intergenerational social networks, and ease of getting around (including accessibility and price of transport, the condition of pavements and parks, and personal safety). Getting these things right is of fundamental importance to people and failure to do so exacerbates – or causes – care needs. People also favoured locally based provision, employing staff familiar with the local area.

Although a relatively small project, the energy, insight and commitment of those involved regarding better care for themselves, their neighbours and future generations were palpable.  Framing the discussions in terms of social, economic and environmental sustainability unlocked creative thinking and bridged personal and community needs in ways that traditional consultation about service provision struggles to achieve.  There are lessons here for both commissioners and providers about the latent demand for services which are genuinely sustainable, and the willingness of citizens to think and act global, local and personal.

Sustainable social care and personalisation:  a guide for community engagement is based on this work and is available for local authorities and their partners to use in developing their own community-driven, sustainable approaches to social care.

Age UK are calling on the Government to reform the adult social care system. Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign and how to sign up to our petition.

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