Simon Heng column

The adult green paper continues to dominate my time. Talking to
fellow service users and carers has highlighted issues that I
hadn’t thought about and raised questions the green paper itself
doesn’t address, let alone answer.

One of the salient points is that users will be allowed to take
more risks. For people who have been dependent on social care for a
long time (sometimes all their lives) this looks like good news.

For years, some people’s lives have been limited by others’
opinions of their limitations. Many people have complained that
they are not being treated like adults; they haven’t been allowed
to risk making mistakes like everyone else. Assessments let slip
underlying attitudes within the system which infantilise and
disempower service users.

If you are disempowered, you never get the chance to learn the
skills needed to control your life. And if you acquire a
disability, or become mentally ill, there’s a good chance that you
can become de-skilled very quickly. That’s what institutions do,
whether it is prison, hospital, day centre or care home.

My concern with service users having greater freedom of choice is
whether people will be given the support to exercise that freedom.
If I decided to take up mountain-climbing, it wouldn’t just be a
case of spending the money on the right equipment. I would need to
learn how to climb: I would need to learn how to assess potential
hazards and which risks not to take depending on my knowledge and
experience. I would also need to know how to prepare for when
things go wrong – that’s what safety ropes, mobile phones and
rations are for.

Without correct preparation, encouraging service users to take
risks with their care could be catastrophic, like trying to climb a
mountain in just T-shirt and shorts.

Not only could there be a risk to life and limb, but what effect
would failure have on people who have felt like failures for most
of their lives? Who is going to be on the other end of the safety
line, both practically and emotionally?

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