As NDTi Celebrates 25 Years of making change happen, we talk to associate Dorothy Runnicles about what she thinks still needs to change in our society.
As a social scientist, community approaches were always part of my agenda as part of a post war Britain. Our whole global Social Care agenda stemmed from our learning during the war. A shared understanding of humanity –what is now called “Asset based communities”. None of this is rocket science. But somehow, we don’t seem to be able to move our social policy efforts forward.
NDTi has always understood the importance of sharing power and sharing responsibilities to effect social justice. This is what attracted me to them because it reminds me of what we did in the war. During the war we didn’t talk about money, we talked about have you got any metal or other resources that we can share. There were no heroes – everybody suffered and benefitted together. The war revealed and removed barriers of class and gender and there was a blurring of access to resources and healthcare. We shared these values for many years as social workers, politicians and in our communities. Everybody understood that it was not about putting money first; it was about putting people first. After the war we understood that we needed to take a collective responsibility for each other as a community. But somewhere in today’s society, this has got lost.
In 2010 when I worked on the report “Unsung Heroes in a Changing Climate” we looked at the experiences of older people and asked what do they do. Despite what people thought, what we found is they actually do a huge amount - and what Age Concern thought they were doing in representing us was, in fact, highly resented. People said “we’re already doing that in our street” “we don’t want you to represent us, we’ll represent ourselves”. Suddenly people realised that the patronage of older people was belittling because it didn’t recognise the reality of what was already happening in neighbourhoods. And that was 2010. So where are we now?
Sadly, there is an attitude of disrespect that still persists in how we treat older people. And we haven’t learnt ourselves our human rights, our citizens rights and our legal rights as older people. So we still have a culture of Ageism in our society. People don’t want to face the fact that, if like me, you get to 92, you will gradually lose capacities, no matter how much you fight against it. You’ve got to realise that your body does breakdown and you will eventually die, so we need to get more comfortable in talking about and sustaining a good life and a good end. But our cultural barriers stop us from talking about such “morbid” things. It’s not morbid! Your birth is not morbid and therefore your death doesn’t need to be morbid either. If we could break this stigma of disability which is overriding us as we age, people would feel more able to admit when they can no longer do certain things and instead talk about what they want from that period in their lives. If we could just listen to people’s voices about what they want, instead of assuming what they want as they lose capacity, we could all face old age in a more positive and inclusive way.
We’ve had so many schemes that are about including older people and creating better lives for older people. Some have worked. Others? Well they haven’t done much more than provide jobs for people who think they know what’s best for us – how many of them are properly acting on the voices of older people? As I said, nothing is rocket science, but just hearing these voices and taking action should create a partnership between providers and people who use services in social care.
Our work at NDTi has helped many people find their voice and when I’m out talking to groups of older people and they say to me “what can I do” I tell them our voices can be heard and we don’t need to lose our identity either. It doesn’t matter if you have high support needs, we all still have so much to give. No matter how big or small, everybody has a contribution to make.
Dorothy Runnicles is the at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi)
NDTi is an organisation that promotes equal and inclusive lives for people in their communities, particularly where ageing or disability are issues
Dorothy Runnicles's blog is a personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the NDTi.