Valuable not vulnerable
Those of you who follow the work of Community Catalysts will know that when it comes to Covid19 our CEO Sian, who lives with long term health conditions, is in the ‘shielded’ group. This fact, coupled with conversations with people in a similar position have, over the last few weeks, made us angrier and angrier as people who are shielded are portrayed only in terms of their vulnerabilities and needs.
1.8 million people are formally shielded and in addition there are large numbers of people who are taking similar steps to protect themselves or the people they love from this horrible virus. Some of these people have conditions which mean they need high levels of care and support but, and this is crucial, many do not. The focus in the early weeks of this crisis has been, quite rightly, ensuring people are protected from Covid 19 and have access to the essentials they need to be able to stay in their homes – things like food and prescriptions. In response an army of formal volunteers and informal neighbour networks has sprung up or come sharply into view (so many of these were already there – just under the radar of Government and public sector agencies). People are using websites and social media to offer what people in their neighbourhood need. In many areas new Local Resilience Forums in Community Resilience Groups have begun to link up and support this outpouring of goodwill.
This demonstrates the best of us as a country – local people helping other local people, spontaneously and without expectation of reward. However, and this is the bit that is making us angry, it has also focussed totally on the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘needs’ of people with underlying health conditions and older and disabled people – creating a them (the needy) and us (the needed) division in which the skills, strengths, experience and assets of millions of people are overlooked as they are labelled by the things they lack.
People with underlying health conditions have strengths and skills their communities and the country needs. They often have enhanced personal resilience, strong networks, unrivalled skills in finding workarounds to practical challenges and knowledge gained from their lived experience that is of huge value. Many are also valued employees, local leaders, respected volunteers and active contributors to their family and locality. So where are these people and where is this side of the Covid19 story?
As I write this, we are still waiting for the detail following the Prime Minister’s speech at the weekend. Even without the detail it seems clear that people with underlying health conditions and people who are older or disabled may be expected to distance themselves from society for a longer period of time than others. Of course, as lockdown begins to ease, we do need to make sure that people who need practical support and protection from the virus continue to receive it. But we also need to be aware that people who are shielded will find themselves in a different position to the rest of society and that this could have a huge impact on their perception of self and personal wellbeing.
Through the language of vulnerability, we have created an expectation of dependency for 100s of 1000s of people – this is not desirable or sustainable for people or society. We need to urgently shift narrative and practice. To focus on the skills and strengths of people – to value them as well as support them – to offer opportunities to contribute as well as opportunities to receive.
Here at Community Catalysts we want to try and help change the story, influence local activity and use our connections and experience to shine a light on real value shielded people add to our communities, workplaces and society as whole. We are looking for supporters, funders and partners to work with and help us. Please get in touch if this is something you would value a conversation about