SOCIAL PROBLEM: The trouble with communicating social care


Social care is in crisis and there are warnings it is about to pull local government and the NHS into the abyss.

The loud crack that we first heard in 2008 coming from the foundations is about to turn into something else.

This is one view. The other is that there’s enough money in the system. If only councils would cut councillor’s expenses and non-jobs we’d all be fine. Or something.

Social care is the safety net that catches your Mum, Dad, Gran, Grandpa, son, daughter, brother, sister or you when you need it.

The trouble is, however, that social care has got a communications problem.

Everyone loves the NHS because at some point they know their family will need it.

And the NHS is personified by the doctor and the nurse in that big building called a hospital which is there to care for you.

But what about social care?

There are no hospitals, nurses or doctors.

No-one plans to get dementia. Or live alone.

There’s just people like you or me helping other people in the community. Like my Aunt Jean. They’re invisible.

And because they’re invisible not enough people care.

Head v heart

If a trend in 2016 has been for communicating to the heart over the head what does that look like?

It’s not words like ‘re-enablement’.

It’s not spreadsheets or financial projections.

It’s communicating the 75-year-old man called Alan who only speaks to someone once a week for five minutes.

Or the 88-year-old called Maude who looks like your Mum who needs help every day getting out of bed.

Painful, human stories of people whose names you know who are looking straight at you. Straight at you.  And one day soon you could be one of them.

Picture credit: Brian Tomlinson / Flickr

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  1. “Everyone loves the NHS because at some point they know their family will need it…”

    …and because it gets you better. That’s a slight oversimplification (the NHS certainly cares for people who aren’t going to get better), but that’s something we can all support. It’s a positive story.

    It also happens in the short-term. Get sick, go to the hospital or the doctor.

    Social care happens in the long-term. If you’re a taxpayer, you’re unlikely to be using it yourself until a few decades into your future, and humans are really bad at long-term planning, particularly if it involves financial sacrifice.

    Are there positive stories to be told about social care? Probably, but it’s intrinsically more difficult to communicate about a service which is not only not as visible as health care (as stated), but is also used mostly by people at a stage of life most of us prefer not to think about happening to us.

    A while ago, I used to start off a presentation about social care research by saying: “Let’s try a though experiment here. Evidence suggests that one in six of us will end our lives with dementia sufficiently serious that we will need one-on-one care for the most basic functions of life; eating, drinking, cleaning ourselves and going to the toilet. Can I ask everyone in this room who has made provision – financial, legal, or even just talking to your kids about what you want doing in your old age – for that happening to them to raise their hands?”

    The number of hands that went up (if any) was nowhere near one in six.

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