Feb 21

Our pledge supporting full and equal contribution at events from people who draw on social care.

Posted: 22 February 2021

Our CEO Oonagh Smyth pledges that when speaking at a public event she will ask organisers to ensure full and equal contribution from people who draw on social care.

Our organisation has spent the last months reviewing our strategy and thinking about what we can do differently.

As part of that last week we published the evidence base that we gathered together to support the strategy. We are speaking to a wide range of people, employers including individual employers, and people working in social care as well as partners. It is an opportunity to really build on what we have done and will do.

We started our strategy process by reminding ourselves of our charitable objects which are the legal starting point for any charity - although obviously they can be changed. Our objects in summary, are to help, support and assist people accessing social care by advancing education, skills, training and the workforce. They place the person drawing on care and support at their heart, and it follows our vision must do the same.

I have been struck since starting that Skills for Care is such a values driven organisation. Every single one of our team who I speak to (which I hope is now most of them on a screen at least!) is passionate about social care and what it does for communities. They are just as passionate about the importance of social care for people who draw on it, and passionate about inclusion. 

It’s really important to me to work in organisation that has these values. My sister (my Mum’s first child) was born with spina bifida and significant life limiting disabilities. When she died, my mother was advised by a nurse not to name or bury her, she was young, she’d have more children. It was as if she wasn’t worth a name.

We celebrated her birthday - 21 June, the summer solstice - every year and all three girls took her name (Rita) as our confirmation name. I never met her, but Rita was always part of the family. 

This, and growing up in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, might have been the reasons I was drawn to volunteering for a Gateway club when I was a teenager, to studying human rights and working in disability policy in the Equality Commission. My values were established, as all of our values are, through these experiences.

Download and complete the 'Speaker Engagement request form'

So how do these values manifest in practice?

An example came up in the last few weeks. I (along with others) was challenged, and rightly so, by Social Care Futures, to be an ally for people who draw on social care by pledging that I will ask event organisers whether there is meaningful participation at any event or conference of people who draw on care and support.

I pledge. If I’m asked to speak at a conference or contribute to another kind of public debate about social care I will ask organisers to ensure full & equal contribution from people who draw on social care. Share if you will pledge #OurSocialCare

This is one way that we can really make sure that we are living our values, recognising that people who work in social care and people who draw on social care are partners. We want the same things, but we need to balance the voices.

So we are going to ask a set of questions at the point that we are asked to take part in an event. Those questions include asking who with lived experience will be speaking at the event, and how people with lived experience have been involved with designing the event.

We will share the pro forma on our website, both so that we can be really transparent about our approach, but also in case it is useful for others.

What it means in practice

  • We will ask this set of questions any time we are asked to speak to at an event.
  • We will be clear why we are asking them and signpost to this blog.
  • We will offer to support event organisers to get in touch with people drawing on care and support if they don’t have those networks themselves.
  • All of our events do include people with lived experience and we will continue to make sure that this is the case so we are meeting our pledge.

We also know that discussions and decisions are much better when they are informed by multiple viewpoints and all backgrounds, and that equality, diversity and human rights play a central role in improving care. This is why we will also be asking about who else has been invited to speak, to help promote representative panels.


What it does not mean

It does not mean that we will say no to events that do not include people who draw on care and support in a meaningful way. This sits uncomfortably with me, but it is important that we keep the importance of the social care workforce on the agenda, and I am going to take any opportunity to make the case for our sector.

Our approach might change if I think that asking event organisers earlier and supporting them to find people with lived experience is not working. If that is the case, we will say that.


⇨ See the 'Evidence review and sector consultation to inform Skills for Care strategy' report