The Pledge - an update a year on

Featured article - 26 May 2022
By Kathryn Smith, SCIE Chief Executive

Kathryn Smith, SCIE Chief Executive

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog about how it’s concerning that all too often, people who draw on care and support, don’t get as many invites as me and others who work across social care, to speak at events and other speaking engagements. So we, along with other organisations signed ‘The Pledge’ to do something about it.

So, here we are in 2022 and how are things going? The big change is that we’ve had a few (not many) real events with real audiences. In July 2021 we were still in the grip of Covid restrictions. But in November we co-hosted, with Care Talk magazine, a Coming out of Covid conference at the august surroundings of the QEII centre in London. It was a relief to ‘be back’ but it was also so important to hear from people like Anna Severwright and Lloyd Page. On Twitter, Anna describes herself as someone ‘navigating health and social care’ and she is also a convenor for Social Care Future, the organisation that is a key advocate of ‘The Pledge’. Lloyd is a programme team volunteer at Mencap. Anna and Lloyd are just two people who draw on services that are well placed to speak at such a conference.

However, it can sometime be a challenge when we are asked to speak at other organisations’ events. When the request comes in to speak at an event, the first question we ask these days is whether people with experience drawing upon either health and / or care will be included. And mostly we have enthusiastic answers. I like to think that we’ve even changed a few hearts and minds so that panels aren’t made up entirely of ‘talking heads’ like me.

The Pledge

We support the full and equal contribution at events from people who draw on or access social care and support

A couple of times in the last year we have unfortunately had to pull out of events because it’s been clear that there has been little attempt to hear from people who draw on services. In some small cases organisers still struggle to see the value of including people who draw upon care and support as speakers. This is unacceptable; those are the people with experience, what they have to tell us is nearly always more impactful than just hearing from ‘the professionals’. For us it comes back to a very basic message when we are talking about co-production, it’s ‘Nothing about us without us’.

But we’ve had some great highlights this year that have embraced The Pledge. For example, when we launched the report from the Commission on the Role of Housing in the Future of Care and Support in November, we heard amazing testimony from Trevor, a carer, who has learnt how to navigate the system so that he has expert advice to give on ‘Housing with Care’.

And we’ve extended The Pledge to the webinars and podcasts that we run. In one webinar, a young man from Huddersfield, Anthony, had a few technical issues when we were ‘live’ in the webinar. They were soon resolved and feedback we got was that delegates would rather hear the passion and reality of Anthony’s story, alongside technical challenges, than just another policy person who happens to have a great internet connection!

In one webinar, people with learning difficulties ran a webinar for other people with learning difficulties. And you’ll notice I used the word ‘difficulties’ rather than the more common ‘disabilities’. This is because the people running the webinar wanted it that way. We think it was a real example of people, who draw on services, grasping the nettle and taking control. We also supported Think Local Act Personal in making a podcast about personalisation in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Centre stage was a person who has direct experience of direct payments, Iggy Patel.

Last year we made The Pledge in Co-production Week. Of course we recognise that there are sometimes different challenges when it comes to putting people who draw on services centre-stage. Accessibility is crucial (though shouldn’t the conference organiser be thinking about that anyway..?) and we should remember that, unlike professionals who are getting paid by their employer to take part in the conference, often the person with lived experience isn’t. We must remember to make sure we demonstrate that we value people’s time by making sure they do receive payment for their contributions, we have a guide that should help with that. But my advice is to take The Pledge by starting to think differently

So, when asked to speak at an event, do take a step back and ask if people will be on the panel with you who are experts-by-experience, if the answer to that is no then why not challenge the organisers on that? Or perhaps include a person with lived experience in your own presentation and do it jointly? People who draw on care and support have just as much right be there if not more; they have important and interesting things to say based on real life experience; and they add, as I hope I’ve shown above, great content for your organisation.

Oonagh Smyth, who's CEO at Skills for Care and Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission, have recently been discussing this with me and others; leaders, practitioners and, of course, people who draw on services. This has been about the changes we’ve made and the progress we still want to see, and how we look forward to reading more about it in upcoming blogs and elsewhere. It would be good to hear how you are empowering the voices of people in your work.

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