Better together

“Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020”.

Marcus Rashford [1]

How far we’ve come since March 2020. And how our story has changed.

Back then, cohesion and solidarity dominated our narrative and shaped our behaviour. On 22 March – Mother’s Day – Boris Johnson wrote that “this disease is forcing us apart – at least physically. But this epidemic is also the crucible in which we are already forging new bonds of togetherness and altruism and sharing.” [2] Announcing the lockdown the following day, he concluded that “each and every one of us is now obliged to join together. To halt the spread of this disease. To protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives… We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together.” [3]

In Ireland, Leo Varadkar asked people to “come together as a nation by staying apart from each other” [4]. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon wrote “we are in it together and we’ll get through it together” [5]. And in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern stated “We will get through this together, but only if we stick together.” [6]

The ‘One world: together at home’ concert raised millions. Hashtags like #TogetherApart, #BetterTogether and #TogetherWeCan trended on Twitter. We clapped together on Thursday evenings. We came together on our streets and our communities to support each other. We followed the rules and stayed at home: together – apart. And research suggests our collective compliance was largely due to “the belief that we are all in it together.” [7]

But by the time the news broke that the Prime Minister had contracted COVID-19, the cracks in this narrative were already clear. Claims from politicians and pop stars alike that the virus “does not discriminate”, “is no respecter of individuals, whoever they are” and is “the great leveller”, which has “made us all equal in many ways” [8] were met with anger at the time [9], and as the weeks and months have gone by and the true impact of the virus has become increasingly and horrifyingly apparent, the cracks in this narrative have become chasms.

As well as physically separating us from people we love, and fragmenting our workplaces and our social spaces, COVID-19 and the measures introduced in response have exposed and exacerbated vast divisions across our society.

But I’ve written a lot this year about division. Now, as 2021 beckons, with glimmers of hope spreading across the country in small glass vials, I want to focus instead on ‘togetherness’. So here are my thoughts on what ‘together’ means in our better, brighter social care future.

1. Seeing the (whole) person

“Organisations may be siloed but our lives are not”

Anna Severwright [10]

We have to start by seeing people as whole human beings rather than as broken parts. As people with strengths and skills and gifts to give, not as a collection of problems and diagnoses and needs to be carved up, labelled, distributed and fixed (or not) by different elements of our system. Listen. Be genuinely interested in people and understand what matters to them.

We have to look at whole lifetimes – at what’s happened to (and been done to) people to shape who and how they are right now, and what needs to happen next to shape their future selves, at whatever age or stage of life they are at.

We have to look at whole families and households – no more of adult social care ‘dealing with’ the adult with care and support needs, while children’s services work with their child, and carers services support their carer. People don’t exist in isolation – we must stop responding to them as if they do.

And we have to look at whole communities. Get to know the collective attributes and passions and wisdom and experience of neighbours and neighbourhoods. Acknowledge the interdependencies and the benefits of reciprocal relationships. Take part, not take over. Join in.

2. Connecting

“There is no playbook for this situation. But there is hope…  Whilst we are staying apart in the physical sense I genuinely believe that we can come together for good with compassion and kindness towards each other.”

Clenton Farquharson [11]

As this year has demonstrated, we really do need each other. Fundamentally we need each other to survive. To meet our basic needs for food and drink, clothing, shelter and safety. But to thrive we need genuine connections. Friendships, family and intimate relationships. We need to hold and be held. We need to be part of a bigger whole. We need to belong. We need to love, and to be loved in return.

So our main purpose in our brighter social care future must be to bring people together. To weave a web of relationships and support in our local communities. To help connect the threads, tie the knots, untangle the messy bits and mend those parts that are torn.

3. Working together

“What does a good life look like for you and your family and how can we work together to achieve it?”

Care and support statutory guidance [12]

How can we work together? Not by relying on emails and forms and IT systems to refer and connect. Not through integrating the bureaucracy of the NHS with the bureaucracy of social care. Not by creating ‘teams around the person’ and ‘person-centred care’, where multidisciplinary groups of ‘professionals’ come together to talk about ‘cases’, not to listen to and do things with people.

For me, the only human places to connect are at a human level – where person-led conversations determine what can best support people to achieve their ‘good life’. And at a community level, whether the community is geographical, virtual or just a connected group with a common purpose or interest.

If we’re genuinely going to work together, we need to shift the power, share out the money and listen to and respect each other as equals, with shared values identified and agreed at the start, and trust that we build by being kind, and honest, and useful.

Instead of rushing to prescribe, to fix and to maintain, we need to invest our time and resources upstream, to co-create the conditions for individuals and communities to thrive.

4. Removing the barriers

“We can talk about inclusion. We can talk about diversity. But what we really need to talk about is how to be human.”

Elly Chapple [13]

Right now our ‘system’ actively discourages connection and relationships. We do our best to divert people. We screen people out or signpost them away. We gate-keep and exclude people through eligibility determinations and financial thresholds. Our admissions criteria and transfer protocols describe how we pass people on, who we let in, who we turn away.

We work in silos and hierarchies, with great gulfs in between.

We maintain our professional boundaries, not getting too close through fear of dependency, of exposing our own vulnerabilities, of being too human.

And, as I’ve written about so many times, our language divides and excludes. The othering labels separating them from us. The jargon perpetuating power dynamics. The acronyms confusing and alienating.

Instead of imposing barriers, we need to rip them down. We need to open our doors and welcome people inside. We need to unlock our gates and venture outside.

We can only build a more human system if we each have the courage to be more human ourselves. To be the change we want to see.

5. Flipping the narrative

“But what if we wanted to change the way people thought about Social Care? How would we do that?”

Wendy Mitchell [14]

As ever, language plays a significant role here. Too much of the narrative of social care is about a broken system for broken people. A sector in crisis. Vulnerable people who must be protected.

We need to tell a different story. About conversations, not assessments. About relationships, not transactions. About good lives, not failing services. About working with, not doing to. About possibilities, not risks. About potential, not problems. About the value of support, not the cost of care. About love and compassion, not abuse and neglect.

About all of us, not them and us.

If we want to change the way people think about social care, we need to come together with a shared vision and a compelling narrative, and keep engaging and connecting to sustain the momentum for change.

Building a brighter social care future, together

“For all its enormous hardships, the past few months have demonstrated that we do care about one another, that we want to be together and to pull through this together… Together, we can build a brighter social care future.”

Neil Crowther [15]

We have far more in common than that which divides us, and this year we’ve proved just what we can achieve together, with a common purpose and a shared commitment.

Social care has the potential to be right at the beating heart of communities, the core of a pulsing, shifting, growing network of connections and relationships that benefit us all. The need is immense, the potential is huge and the rewards are clear. So, what are we waiting for? We can all play our part in building our brighter, more human future. Us. Together. One connection at a time.


[1] I don’t even know what to say… Marcus Rashford, Twitter, 16 June 2020

[2] PM’s Mother’s Day words: 22 March 2020, Prime Minister’s Office, 22 March 2020

[3] PM address to the nation on coronavirus: 23 March 2020, Prime Minister’s Office, 23 March 2020

[4] Varadkar: ‘We’re asking people to come together as a nation by staying apart from each other’, Stephen McNeice, NewsTalk, 17 March 2020

[5] Coronavirus COVID 19 staying safe information leaflet, Scottish Government, April 2020

[6] New Zealand lockdown releases charity spirit as Ardern ‘be kind’ mantra kicks in, Charlotte Graham-McLay, The Guardian, 22 April 2020

[7] The lockdown and social norms: why the UK is complying by consent rather than compulsion, Jonathan Jackson et al, London School of Economics, 27 April 2020

[8] Coronavirus: ‘Virus does not discriminate’ – Gove, Sky News, 27 March 2020
The PM can now say with conviction that we’re all in this together Madeline Grant, The Telegraph, 28 March 2020
Coronavirus: Madonna calls pandemic ‘the great equaliser…’ Adam White, Independent, 23 March 2020

[9] Coronavirus: They tell us it’s a great leveller… it’s not, Emily Maitlis, BBC Newsnight, 9 April 2020

[10] Social care is a tool, not a destination, Anna Severwright, NHS Confederation, 10 December 2020

[11] Coming together; staying apart, Clenton Farquharson, Think Local Act Personal (TLAP), 8 April 2020

[12] Care and support statutory guidance, Department of Health and Social Care, Updated 24 June 2020

[13] #Flip the narrative, Elly Chapple, Twitter, 14 December 2020

[14] The Changing Conversations around Social Care…… Wendy Mitchell, Which me am I today? blog, 9 September 2020

[15] Together we can, Neil Crowther, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), 8 June 2020

One thought on “Better together

  1. You have detailed out the core conditions that need to be shifted, for the whole of social care to be able to take a new path. It is huge, but then the path to get us to where we are today was also massive. We need a reset button and a led desire for real change.
    Your points are well thought out and help to bring to together learning from a myriad of experiments and trials that have gone on in the past years.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s