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The Role of Mediation in Complaints About Adult Social Care

The Role of Mediation in Complaints About Adult Social Care


Recent reports on adult social care emphasise the need to reframe and reimagine the care system. An inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed the challenges faced by individuals in making complaints due to confusing and slow local authority processes. Exploring mediation as an option could offer a new perspective, says Margaret Doyle. Mediation provides a safe space for discussions, ensuring all parties are heard, and can humanise rights, making them tangible in everyday situations. Let’s consider mediation as a valuable resource in resolving social care complaints.

‘The English system of social care—the poor relation to the NHS since 1948—is underfunded, unreformed and palpably inadequate at meeting the needs of an ageing population. This problem has worsened over a generation and has been dodged by both main parties, though the position has become particularly acute as a result of austerity.’

‘Beveridge at Eighty: Learning the Right Lessons’, Gavin Kelly and Nick Pearce

The Political Quarterly, 3 January 2023[1]

There has been a flurry of recent reports on social care reform in England in the face of continued inaction by the UK Government. Among these are ‘Care and Support Reimagined: A National Care Covenant for England’ (Reimagining Care, Archbishops of Canterbury and York, 2022), which sets out a radical vision for reframing what social care is about and which states that ‘tinkering around the edges is no longer an option….in order to reimagine care and support, we must uphold values that recognise the dignity, value and gift of every human being. This requires us to take actions towards rethinking attitudes to care and support, rebalancing roles and responsibilities, and radically redesigning the system.’[2]

There is, in this report and other initiatives, an urgent and consistent call for a reframing and creative reimagining of social care, to move away from a narrative of crisis and decline (as depicted in the quote above) to one of opportunity – to a celebration of community, interdependence, and flourishing. The narrative change has been led by movements like the grassroots Social Care Future, which invites us to work together to harness the potential that social care offers us as a society. Its vision for social care is set out as a shared ambition: ‘We all want to live in the place we call home with the people and things we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing things that matter to us.’

Complaints about adult social care

One of the issues addressed in several of the recent reports is how complaints about social care are dealt with. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched an inquiry in 2021 into how older and disabled adults and unpaid carers can challenge local council decisions about social care and support in England and Wales. In February 2023 the EHRC published its report of the evidence, with far-reaching recommendations. The headline finding is that local authority processes are confusing and slow, and those drawing on social care support, and their friends and families, find making complaints difficult and stressful, often at a time when they are in crisis. People are often not given information on how to complain or signposted to independent advice and support. The result can be fear of ramifications, including fear of loss of support. As Helen Wildbore, Director of The Relatives & Residents Association, highlights in her foreword to a new report from King’s College London on evictions from care homes, people contacting their helpline speak of being ‘afraid to raise issues about their care, to speak out about concerns or use their legal rights for fear of reprisals, including eviction’.[3]

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