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Reform of social-care system requires change in attitude, says Bishop of Sheffield

17 October 2023

Parliament TV

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, addresses the House of Lords on Monday evening

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, addresses the House of Lords on Monday evening

A FUNDAMENTAL rethink of social attitudes is needed to reform the adult social-care system in England, so that a “gloriously ordinary life” is available for all, regardless of gender, age, or disability, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, has said.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on Monday evening, he said that “we cannot any longer tinker around the edges of the existing system.”

Referring to a report published by the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care (News, 27 January), Dr Wilcox said: “It will be possible to reimagine social care only if we fundamentally rethink our attitudes in society, where too often we are inclined to treat people as if their value is determined by factors such as age, gender, or ability rather than affirming and celebrating the dignity of all human beings, valued for who they are and not for what they do.”

There was a “considerable amount of overlap” between this report and the one produced by the House of Lords Adult Social Care Committee last year, he said. “Both contribute to the growing consensus that we cannot any longer tinker around the edges of the existing system. We must reset and reimagine the way that social care is understood, organised, and delivered.”

But this meant universal changes in society, he argued. “This is not the responsibility of the Government alone.” Churches, for example, played a vital part in providing services such as dementia cafés to support communities.

“The doctor will see through you now”

One recommendation from the Archbishops’ Commission was a National Care Covenant, “which would clarify the roles and responsibilities for social care to be shared across society”, he said. “The language of covenant encourages us to move away from ideas of contracts and rights towards powerful notions of partnership and interdependence.”

The Bishop concluded: “We all stand to benefit from a society where our dependence upon one another is recognised and celebrated and promotes the flourishing of all, so that each one of us indeed has the best possible chance to live a ‘gloriously ordinary life’.”

He then questioned “how far the concept of a National Care Covenant has been found useful by the Government” in ongoing efforts to reform the social-care system.

Responding, Lord Markham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “The thrust of what we are trying to do is taking to heart the Archbishops’ report, where care is everyone’s business, whether that is citizens, families, neighbours, or carers, and based . . . on the concept of co-design, working with the local partners, the local authorities, and an integrated care system.”

Other contributors to the debate included Baroness Wheeler (Labour), who praised the Commission’s report, and applauded “the vital work that faith committees do to help plug the enormous gaps locally in social-care provision”. She welcomed “further discussion on how the proposed National Care Covenant could help reinforce making social care the national imperative it needs to be”.

She criticised the Government’s “underwhelming and disappointing” response to the Commission’s report, and asked why the Government’s “long-awaited ten-year social plan” had not yet been published.

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