Yesterday I had the real privilege of representing the Lib Dems at a Parliamentary reception for Shared Lives. This is a marvellous organisation which helps 12,000 families in the UK open up their homes and bring into their families people with physical or education difficulties.
This sounds easy in principle but in reality the work is very complex. By definition the people who are helped are people with multiple needs. They have either been in and out of institutions all their lives or have interacted with a huge number of parts of health and education and social services. The carers spend a great deal of time with their guests finding the appropriate ways to find the appropriate parts of the system. This is not easy as any councillor will know. But they do far more than that. They provide a strong family background in which those in their care thrive and can develop their lives to the maximum of their ability.
I regard those carers as heroes as they take on 24/7 52 weeks a year commitments. In fact everyone thinks the carers are heroes except the carers themselves. They describe the massive satisfaction that they get from their role. The joy of seeing their charges improve and develop. The pleasure of helping to draw out a capacity that no one thought existed. It was described this way to me yesterday, “no-one knows what they can do because everyone concentrates on what they cannot do”. What a magnificent and positive way of looking at people and perhaps we should all use that more in our relationships with all we interact with.
Shared Lives succeeds on two levels. Firstly it saves us a shed load of money. Keeping people in an institution costs a lot if cash. This organisation saves the public purse tens of millions of £s every year.
But more importantly it provides much better outcomes for all involved in it. The carers spoke of improved health, improved mental state, improved educational opportunities for those cared for. Less money and better outcomes – this is a model that not only works for these people but might provide a valuable guide for the public sector generally.
The fact is that money is in increasingly short supply. We must do more up stream and in the community to stop people become institutionalised. No matter what politicians of any party, including my own, promise before an election at some time in the not too distant future the Government will run out of money to provide social and health care in a form which looks like it does today. More and more children’s lives are being saved with difficulties that would have killed them only 20 years ago. More and more of us are living increasingly longer but increasingly frailer. If we want to care for people properly we need to totally re-engineer our health and care systems to move money away from hospitals and acute units into high quality, but cheaper community care.
Finally, person after person mentioned to me yesterday how Norman Lamb had been a great supporter of theirs whilst a Minister. This is something that seems to happen at almost every health gathering I go to!
If you are interested in learning more I suggest you go and visit them on their web site http://www.sharedlivesplus.org.uk. They work in most parts of the UK and I am sure would be pleased to tell you what they do in your locality. Look at the. Not only for what they do but for the model they might provide for the future of other services in your community.