We have all endured restrictions and loss over the past year, reminding us of the value we place upon being in control of our lives, doing things that matter to us and being with the people we care about. The horizon of our lives and the choices we have been able to make have been extremely limited by events beyond our control.
Changing the social care story
The restrictions imposed upon those of us living in care homes have kept loved ones apart for months, some never to spend time with one another ever again. Given the evidence of the risks faced by those living in congregate care, we might see such measures as necessary. And yet, isolated and absent from the routines, interests, places and familiar people from which all of us draw meaning and purpose, the wellbeing of many people who are literally imprisoned in such settings has been seriously harmed. Even if they were fortunate not to get COVID, COVID still got them. Meanwhile, members of the #socialcaremovement who draw on social care to live in their own homes have commented that the support they received prior to the pandemic was already often so threadbare and restrictive that the lockdowns have not felt all that different from their everyday existence.
Without a significant shift, the future currently being anticipated for people who have reason to draw on social care is akin to a permanent lockdown and all the damage that will cause. With all this in mind, one would hope that we would never now regard ‘a good approach’ to social care as one that simply aims to keep people alive. ‘And yet, that is still how social care is overwhelmingly talked and thought about in general by the public, the media and political think tanks: as washing, feeding and dressing ‘vulnerable people who cannot look after themselves.’ Even when we read, listen or talk about ‘fixing social care’, all that is usually meant is funding more of the same old institutional or ‘life and limb’ care.
This is the dead hand of an unsupportive narrative in action. The public story of social care is an obstruction to building the future that all of us really wants for each other. That’s why #socialcarefuture set out to understand how it could be changed and we’re extremely pleased to be able to report that it can.
Following exposure to a new narrative, developed in partnership with strategic communications experts Equally Ours and public opinion researchers Survation, a survey of over 3,000 people found that they:
- Regarded social care as important to themselves and to those close to them (rising from 44% pre-exposure to 55% after).
- Regarded social care as a benefit to both those who need support and the wider community (rising from 58% pre-exposure to 68% after). Placed greater priority to social care above other areas of Government policy.
- Supported more investment in social care from central Government (rising from 60% pre-exposure to 67% after).
- Believed that it’s possible to start organising social care in a better and more sustainable way now (rising from 52% pre-exposure to 63% after).
Crucially, the route to achieving these results was to shift mindsets from the limited and limiting thinking about social care outlined above towards one rooted in people being empowered to lead the lives they want to lead through the support and relationships they enjoy in their local community. Following exposure to our new narrative, people were:
- Significantly less likely to associate social care with paternalistic ideas such as vulnerability and compassion (declining from 50% to 27% and from 52% to 36%, respectively).
- Far more likely to associate it with words such as independence, community and relationships (increasing from 19% to 33%, 12% to 31% and 12% to 31%, respectively).
They were also more likely to agree with the statements that:
- ‘Social care is about people having the support to live how, where and with whom they choose to’ (increasing from 61% pre-exposure to 70% post).
- ‘Social care draws together relationships and support’ (from 51% pre-exposure to 65% post).
- ‘Living how we choose to live is dependent on the strength of the relationships that we have’ (49% pre-exposure to 60% post).
What is the new narrative that achieved these results? Some of it may already be familiar because #socialcarefuture has been promoting it for almost two years:
This opening, values-led, hopeful statement establishes in our audience’s mind the life that social care should help us all to lead. It invokes values of self-direction, solidarity and belonging. It addresses everyone. Moreover, as the communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio reminds us, ‘People buy the brownie, not the recipe’ – it focuses on people leading good lives, not on the plight of a ‘system’ or ‘sector.’
We then briefly explain why we might need social care, linking it back to the headline vision:
Again, while linking social care to health and disability, we avoid presenting it as pertaining to ‘others’ or fixed groups, using the word ‘we’ throughout and leaving open the possibility that it is something we may all have reason to call upon.
We then set out how we believe social care should work when working well:
Here, we introduce the idea of social care not as a single transactional service delivered to people or as a place people go to, but as the drawing together of formal and informal support and relationships on which people can draw to live the lives they wish to. ‘Weaving the web’ is one of a number of metaphors we successfully tested to create a mental shortcut to this idea, along with social care as ‘the glue that binds’ and social care helping to ‘nurture an ecosystem’ of relationships and support. We employed real-life examples to bring these ideas to life, focusing on personal assistance, wellbeing teams, community circles and local area co-ordination.
Having defined what good social care is, the final stage of our narrative sets out what needs to happen to bring this to everyone:
The potential is powerful
During the research, some participants rightly noted that as much as they liked our vision and approach, it was not something that could be realised immediately. That needn’t, however, mean that we cannot make a start on building it, hence we talk about Government making it a priority and beginning to invest more and local authorities needing to urgently start working differently now. There was also some concern expressed during the earlier stages of our research that approaches which involved enlisting support from the community could mean Government absenting itself, hence we implicate central Government, local Government and local people and organisations. Finally, we characterise the nature of the relationship that we believe should exist between local councils and communities by using the phrase ‘working alongside and supporting local people and organisations’.
Of course, the results we are able to share here took place within the simulated conditions of audience research. Various factors will mediate how effective this narrative is in the wider world, including its messengers, how creatively it is delivered, the degree to which it comes to be adopted by social care’s advocates, the moments that create opportunities to deploy it, whether the media adopts it and our ability to deliver it at scale to target audiences.
However, what our research clearly demonstrates is the potential to command stronger support for investment and reform of social care and that the positive vision and approach developed by #socialcarefuture offers a persuasive and powerful way to do so.
The research and guidance on how to put the narrative into action will be available later in April at: