Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Social Care Agenda

So, it seems that Gordon Brown et al are suddenly concerned that our old people (i.e. almost all of us in a few years time) are not being well enough looked after, and that the cost of care is disadvantaging all. Well, I can't argue with that, having worked in nursing and care of the elderly back in the nineties, all I can say is that if things have got worse since that time then we are in a truly sorry State.

The thing that worries me is that throwing money, insurance schemes, and other reviews is not really addressing the issue. The way have chosen to live our lives, atomized, families scattered, children too busy to see isolated parents regularly, neighbours too scared, suspicious or ignorant of one another to watch out for the vulnerable ones, and a general abdication of responsibility to the "powers that be" (i.e. social and health services), means that care has been reduced to a mechanistic process rather than one of genuine compassion and engagement by the wider community.

In fact I would go so far as to say that no government can ever resolve this. While a bill goes through Parliament that allows for IVF with no father being named, and as we increasingly rely on self-definition of "family" and "community" – it is no wonder that our care services are in a sorry state. Because at the end of the day it will be down to us, not Labour, the Tories or anyone else coming along making manifesto promises.

We will all (should we live that long) grow old, become frail and need care. Will we leave it till it's too late to wake up and realize that we need to start looking out for one another and not abdicating that responsibility to the State? I am much heartened by new models of church community that are exploring how to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable. But these examples are still the exception, not the norm, and even if every church in the land rose to the challenge that would still run the risk of the wider community abdicating its responsibility to the churches instead of the State, thus creating a new form of institutionalism.

If how we care for the vulnerable is a mark of how civilised we are then I guess we are living in a barbarian society – the old, the young, the dying and the unborn – none are universally well cared for in modern Britain, and more and more legislation to remove protections and allow the killing of those whose lives are deemed "not worth living" are threatening to appear on our statute books.

The only way that changes is going to happen is with each one of us choosing for it be otherwise – and not to rely on someone else to care for our family, our friends and our neighbours. Instead we should look to do it ourselves, together as a community.

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