Opinion: Service user wishlist goes back to basics

The past 12 months have seen topsy turvy times for social care. First, the Wanless Report highlighted the need for massive new investment to meet demand. Then at the end of the year, chancellor Gordon Brown, in his pre-budget report, suggested that this might need to come from “efficiency savings”.

Yet all the wise money is on the need for serious new funding to be allocated to social care in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. Meanwhile, the story is of cuts in adult services.

This is the worrying context in which social care service users live and service user organisations operate. Fortunately, 2006 was an important year of growth for Shaping Our Lives, the independent national service user organisation and network that I am proud to chair. It was our 10th anniversary and we celebrated with the launch of a report on making user involvement work and a party, which brought together service users, allies and key figures in social care.

At our launch, we said at a time of terrible international conflict we needed to be thinking of people who are the victims of peace. Sadly just as we have the unknown soldier as a symbol of the costs of war, so we perhaps should remember “the unknown social care service user” as a symbol of the cost of policy failings. Often left on their own, without the support they need to live as they should have a right to, without help to go out, to keep in touch, sometimes also neglected and at risk of discrimination and abuse, they are denied their full citizen rights.

The largest group is older people, who will have made big contributions through their lives and now may be given low priority and inadequate support. This is not how things should be in a civilised and wealthy society like ours.

Shaping Our Lives asked members of our national user group – which includes older people, mental health service users,  people with learning difficulties, disabled people and others – what they wanted to see happen in social care in 2007. So many of the issues they identified are basics which we might have hoped had long ago been sorted.
They wanted to see:

● Service user participation become so mainstream that it is included as a matter of course in all aspects of service delivery.
● Adequate care and support for older people.
● Proper payment without prejudice routinely available to service users for their expertise and involvement.
● More on tackling stigma for mental health service users.
● More to support networking between service users.
● An honest attack on institutional racism in the mental health system.
● The social model of disability more widely implemented.
● A more concerted effort to support user groups and non-governmental organisations that deal with mental health.
● More events bringing together marginalised groups such as homeless people, travellers, ex-offenders, prisoners and new, emerging communities, as well as refugee and ethnic minority communities.

Service users want two other issues to be prioritised in 2007. First is that choice becomes a reality. With people able to live their lives how, where and with whom they want and the right to the support they want, instead of relying on what scraps of services are thrown their way. They want choice and control taken out of the hands of managers and clinicians who think they know what’s best.

Second, back to funding: they want to see secure ongoing funding for service users’ own organisations. If this kind of capacity building is not central in the coming year then service user involvement will be tokenistic at best.

● See Peter Beresford’s blog

 Peter Beresford is professor of social policy, Brunel University, and is involved with the mental health system survivor movement

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