Apparently, one of the things that keeps us going as humans is our inability to process that the most human of events – death – will ever happen to us. When we feel grief, when we experience loss, our brains, apparently, register this as something which only happen to others, not as a harbinger of our own destiny.
On one level, I find this hard to believe. I still remember the enormity, as a 7-year-old, of realising that the time we have is literally ‘it’, and that there wasn’t actually that much of it. But it is also likely that the same principle applies to a number of life’s great moments. We marry, believing that the divorce statistics are talking about other people, not us. We have babies, not thinking that one day our tiny baby will become a resistant teen...the list goes on.
Believing something that is contradicted by facts seems to be fashionable, but it strikes me that these particular ‘misbeliefs’ aren’t part of our current malaise, but rather useful survival tools – helpful blinkers that enable us to undertake some of the most irrational things we are compelled to do in the interests of society.
The trick only works if we are able to believe that, somehow, we are different.
In some areas of life, however, it is more difficult to maintain that belief. Illness is one of these. We have all been ill at some point. We understand that medicine is part of what keeps us alive and well. When it comes to medical treatment, we don’t want to be different – we want to believe that we are all the same.
In the UK, the NHS is a product of this belief system, and also one of the things that reinforces it. We believe in universal healthcare and we are willing to march and protest and, most importantly, to vote to protect it. It makes us feel safe to we know we will be looked after if we are ill because, after all, we all know that we could fall ill at any time. It is a rationally selfish perspective and one that we prioritise.
We don’t seem to have the same response when it comes to social care – no-one marches on the streets for social workers or care assistants; there don’t seem to be many votes in increasing taxes to pay for social care – the current system isn’t even really a postcode lottery, because there are no winners. The only way to get the care you need is literally to pay until you can’t pay any more, which would be anathema in a health context. So, why does no-one care about social care?
I think it may come back to where we started - illness and care are seen as separate things. Everyone has been ill. Ironically, every one of us has needed social care – being an infant is the lived example of the support that is required by someone with acute needs. The problem is that we don’t remember it and, therefore, when we think of social care, we think it is something that might be needed by others, not something for ourselves; despite all the evidence to the contrary.
We are getting older; we live for longer; our families live further away; our needs are often complex; we don’t want to go into hospital; we want to maintain our independence for as long as possible. Social care is the silver bullet that will keep us at home for as long as possible – it is our best bet if we want to wake up in our own bed; maintain our own routines and live as we choose.
Personally, at the point where I needed care, I would want the people providing it to be well-paid and trained; to be skilled enough to understand my needs; and to have the time to help me appropriately. The only reason I can think of that someone wouldn’t march on the streets for that, would be if they didn’t think they would ever need the help – that it would never happen to them.
Investing in social care should be the ultimate selfish act. We need politicians who are brave enough and empathetic enough to force us to understand that help will not be there for us unless we are prepared to think radically differently about how we care for people; and that those people will be ourselves.
When we treat experiences or people as separate from ourselves, the term used is ‘othering’ – to make something into some thing ‘other’, rather than recognising its common humanity.
When we ‘other’ the process of social care, we may feel briefly better – we can enjoy the relief of observation rather than experience, but this can’t change the fundamental underlying reality – social care isn’t for other people, it is entirely for ourselves. I want us to fund social care properly for selfish reasons, and I wish more people felt the same.