Challenging folk to DARE TO WANT A LIFE!

Recently Bob was asked to contribute a Keynote and Workshops to PEP\\\’s (Hampshire Personalisation Expert Panel) \\\”Breathing New Life into Personalisation \\\” Event in Winchester. Afterwards the organisers asked him to reflect on the outcomes of his sessions. Here are his initial thoughts…

Hampshire Personalisation Expert Panel Conference – 20th March 2013 –
Some Reflections – Bob Rhodes

From Institution to Inclusion – Workshops

In both Workshops I set out to facilitate some normative learning focusing upon expanding the possibilities deriving from self direction and personalisation. During the day I ran two workshops enabling folk to tell themselves about the potential richness of their relationships and associations in comparison with the limitations imposed by needs-focused services.

I observed that the process of needs and deficits focused assessment that is applied (in my view lazily) to establish individuals’ entitlements to benefits and services/funds has insidiously wormed its way into ever burgeoning ‘rules’ about the application of entitlements and the mindsets of disabled people, carers and professionals. The consequence is all too often that resources are poorly and wastefully applied and the potential benefits to people are squandered.

So, I asked folk to work quickly in small groups to list and prioritize those things that really matter to them – that constitute their ‘Good Life’. Extensive research across all cultures and socio-economic groups tells us that these ‘essentials’ are universal and may be summarised as:
Loving and caring relationships – reciprocity and belonging
Enough wealth to be able to exercise some choice
To be seen and respected as a contributing person – to have status and citizenship
Having a home of my own – a place where I can be myself
And, deriving in the main from the above, to feel safe and secure.

It came as no surprise to find that numbers of disabled folk and carers in both groups struggled with the question. While some folk, largely professionals, were able to respond to the question in an ordinary ‘human’ way it was, quite predictably, apparent that many disabled people and carers are drawn into an obsession with the availability, entitlement to, and performance of services. For some the top priorities were all about services.

As always, when I challenged these perspectives I was met with incomprehension from some and irritation and anger from others. As we worked through the list of ‘essentials’ some became implicitly aware that they were, to varying degrees, sidelining life in their pursuit of stuff deemed essential to survival. And when we worked through the list in the context of the impact of institutions, professions and ‘serviceland’ on the satisfaction of those essential criteria there was a growing awareness that:
Services do little to address loneliness and isolation and sometimes inadvertently give rise to disconnection from relationships and social capital
That the benefits and welfare system determinedly ensures that dependent people are poor, bereft of choice, and has gelded the potential for individual budgets to marginally restore some choice to individuals
The service system sees the desire to contribute as a want (desirable but unaffordable even if we knew how to do it) rather than a need
Much of what really matters to us (93% according to the ABCD movement) is ‘serviced’ by our relationships, our associations, through the part we play in the social capital economy
That, by permitting ourselves to become more and more obsessed with the benefits and welfare 7% of the resources available to us in our pursuit of a meaningful and contributing life; we “cut off our nose to spite our face”.

I had proposed that, while as individuals in the short term (one or two ‘rationalizations’ for maintaining a stance of denial – particularly from one or two parents – was the “this is all very well but it’s not how life really is” position) we have to live with the needs/deficit limitations of powerful others we can choose, as people determined to self-direct and pursue of vision for how we want our lives to unfold, start off by developing a very clear ‘Big Picture’ statement about what really matters to us. And then we can use this as the reference point for going forward.

And, so we arrived on both occasions as the allotted hour came to the end, to the next important question:
“When we are clear about how we want to live (accommodating our disabilities and frailties) what can we do that goes beyond reverting to the menu of programmes and services that people the ‘social care marketplace’. Or, in short, how do we become citizens rather than needy shoppers?”

I gave away copies of my book, “Much More to Life than Services”, to anyone who wanted one; and recommended “The Abundant Community” by John McKnight and Peter Block to anyone who wanted to delve into the potential inherent in moving the debate on social care from consumerism to citizenship.

In conclusion, it struck me that what is really needed in Hampshire is a group of vociferous, organised and, above all, successful self-directors who pursue and attain their good life and become beacons and mentors for others. We, at LivesthroughFriends, would be delighted to help the changemakers.