THE Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care seeks to “develop a radical and inspiring long-term vision for care and support in England, underpinned by a renewed set of values and principles, drawing on Christian theology and ethics”.
The members met face to face for the first time on 7 September — the same day as the Government published its long-awaited plan for social care (News, 10 September). Many responses to the plan focused on its funding.
Questions raised included whether the increase in National Insurance was the best way to fund it; whether the money be enough — particularly for local councils that would have to provide care, and what would be left after the lion’s share went to the NHS; whether people realised that the “cap” applied only to “personal care”; and whether councils would have to increase the level of “needs-testing” now that “means-testing” was more generous. Much detail awaits the long-promised White Paper.
This discussion about finance is not unimportant, of course, but it can miss the really important question: what is the plan? How will this change the quality of services or bring creative innovation? What is our vision, as a society, for a transformative care system? “These proposals simply tinker around the edges of the existing broken system,” Natasha Curry of the Nuffield Institute says. For the Government’s answers, we have to wait, again, for the White Paper.
SO, THE Archbishops’ Commission’s focus on a “long-term vision” is timely. “This is not about beds and caps,” Anna Severwright, a Commission member, says “but about people”, and how they can “lead ordinary lives the way they would like”.
Last week, the Commission set out its values and launched a consultation period up to 10 December (Online news, 28 October). Values include “flourishing”, “loving-kindness”, “empathy”, “trust”, and “justice” — to shape a “reimagined future of care and support, not just a reformed statutory care system”. Everybody recognises that this will be a huge challenge.
Care for those living with dementia fits into this broader vision. It is also about enabling people to live a full life, within their own familiar surroundings, and with people they love. Some will be able to continue doing this on their own. Many (most?) will need support at some stage, from family or friends, as well as from professionals. About 700,000 families are currently supporting family members living with dementia.
This army of “volunteers” may not have chosen to undertake this — but they know that it is vital and cannot be replaced. Their work is demanding, exhausting, rewarding, and frustrating. What they need is the right support to enable them to continue. They will be asking how the Government’s plans and the Commission’s vision will contribute to that.
AND what can churches offer? Some of it will be the same as other organisations; but I believe churches have a distinctive contribution.
First, they can offer relationships with continuity. People living with dementia, and their caregivers, are probably in touch with more than one organisation — such as their local council, the Alzheimer’s Society, or something similar — for advice or support. It can be very confusing. Professionals come and go. Churches can offer time — to listen, to talk, to be with people. They can offer relationships, perhaps going back a long way.
When my wife Shoko’s Alzheimer’s took a turn for the worse, she suddenly needed my continuous presence to maintain her daily life (Faith, 14 May). Days and nights blurred into one, and I became exhausted. A close friend from our church pointed out that we needed to build a support team. We began to make contact with the local council and community groups, and to build up professional support. It was hard and confusing work to navigate the social-care system.
We realised that we already had a network of friends in the church. With some hesitation, I asked one whether she could visit, and she gladly came regularly, to talk, play games, and sing with Shoko. Others called in to maintain relationships. We continued to be in church on Sundays and found support there.
Looking back on some very difficult months, I could see the continuity of care, based on existing friendship and relationships, which turned into a steady and reliable support network.
Second, churches can be communities of spiritual power. Running through this network were spiritual resources, too. Faith can be severely challenged by the experience of dementia. Churches can offer faith and hope, forgiveness and prayer.
Shoko no longer read her Bible. Her spoken prayer was limited, with occasional surprising exceptions. But we continued to sing, at home and in church. That was the familiar place that welcomed us, to join the worship and be greeted by smiling friends. Our vicar arranged a regular meeting with me, during which I could talk about my feelings and pray with him. Our church was demonstrating the truth of the gospel through the power of loving community.
Our society needs a vision of care that transforms lives, enabling all to go on living as they would like, based on relationships of love and hope. Churches can offer that.
Robin Thomson is the author of Living with Alzheimer’s: A love story, published by Instant Apostle at £8.99 (Church Times Bookshop £8.09).