Social Care:”Independence” Too Often Means “On Your Own”

If there’s one thing to be said about being a parliamentary candidate, it’s that no day is ever the same. It also puts you face to face with the reality of situations and circumstances that all too often are glossed over in white papers with predictable and vacuous politi-speak. There are two different worlds. The real world, and the White Paper world. First, I’m going to tell you about something that happened to me recently in the real world:

This week I was called to the house of a man with epilepsy who wanted my help in getting better social care. I turned up around 4.30pm. He greeted me, made me a cup of tea and warned me that this was the time he was most likely to have a fit.

Nevertheless, we sat in his sitting room and he explained his predicament; How he is unable to go out alone, how his wife who looked after him died of a brain hemorrhage aged 33, and how he tries to do bits of work here and there to keep himself active (he was working on Bible translation) even though concentrating for more than 10 minutes brings on fits.

It was quite usual for him to have several fits a day, some of which could be dangerously strong and left him seriously weak and depleted. But he only received an hour’s social care visit in the evening, during one of the hours he was most likely to fit, and two shopping trips a week. For the rest of the time, he was on his own.

Then he had a fit. It was quite severe, and left this man shivering and almost helplessly weak. I was aware that I only had limited expertise on how to help this man, and it seemed unthinkable that he had no support in this vulnerable state.

His carer arrived shortly afterwards – a wonderful man who was very concerned to have been absent when he was most needed, and told me how he felt he should be there more often to provide support.

So that’s the real world. Now let’s go back to White Paper world:

The word that so often justifies the lack of support that this man is receiving is “Independence”.  White Papers gush emotively about the wonders of giving people “independence”: (“services help maintain the independence of the individual by giving them greater choice and control over the way in which their needs are met” from the Health and Social Care White Paper, 2006) – and real independence for people is obviously a very good thing. But all too often, in a social services department strapped for cash, “independence” simply translates as  “on your own.”

In the real world, real independence for the elderly and the disabled or ill means having the support and care you need to live your own life. Not being left on your own to become a prisoner of your own home.