Guest blog from Kate Mercer.
The annual National Advocacy Conference and Awards, which take place this week, are without doubt, the highlight of my year. They provide a unique opportunity to bring the sector together so we can reflect on where we are at in our mission and look at how we can get better at getting people better lives.
It’s a full on day: over 250 advocates representing well over 100 organisations come together to look at the current threats we face and hear from experts so we can ensure our knowledge is tip top. Running throughout the day this year, will be an emphasis on celebrating all that is good within our world – which will be symbolised with the special presentation to organisations and winners of the 2018 Advocacy Awards. We received over 70 nominations so shortlisting was incredibly difficult to find the top 4 entries in each area but the judges diligently went through each nomination to seek worthy winners. Celebrating successes and outstanding practice is an important thing for us to do.
To get even better we must of course build on what we are already good at. However, I see the conference as far more than this. We arrange a phenomenal line up of speakers and workshops to support advocates and extend their knowledge and confidence. We also seek inspiration for the sector in the form of new ideas, and trying to reconnect individuals with why we do what we are do.
I worry about the current state of health and social care and have been deeply shocked throughout this year at the care and treatment many people are receiving in some settings. I say care and treatment, the reality for many is abuse, restrictive practices and the most unperson centred care I can think of. I remain deeply appalled by some of the lives I bear witness to and get angry that people who rely on the state for support can be treated with such contempt. I read in Community Care surveys that 4/5ths of social workers report being under pressure to cut care packages just on grounds on cost, that funding panels are being inappropriately used. I hear advocates tell of cases where people have been waiting for assessments for over 6 months, people discharged from hospital without the appropriate planning, people placed on DoLS without the proper authorisations, people left on seclusion for years (yes years). And of course, then there is Leder. The report into the deaths of people with learning disabilities which finds people with learning disabilities are dying 30 years younger than the rest of the population. Sara Ryan appeared on BBC breakfast news to tell the world that the label of having a learning disability is effectively the same as having a life limiting illness. It’s all beyond shocking. But she’s right. The world of health and social care is broken.
This means of course, that us as advocates, should be as busy as we have ever been. The need has never been greater for advocates to challenge unlawful decisions, push back on unperson centred processes and shout from the top of our lungs when people are ignored, belittled and dismissed. It’s never been more important, but I think we can do more. There is always more.
The conference for me is a way for us to come together, to get re-energised. To reconnect with the spark that makes us go that extra mile for a person. The conference is a place which allows us to invest in ourselves so that we fully live this mission, really change lives, take on abusive services and change the way people are treated.