Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reflections on Power

When you get up in the morning, generally, you exercise control over what time that is. Obviously there are factors that influence that decision, the time you start work, the time you need to get the kids up and ready for school or perhaps you might find yourself changing your routine for a special event. Whatever the constraints you still make the decision because you know how much time you need in the morning to get ready etc. Some people like plenty of time, others seem to be able to get up and get out within minutes.

Think about your lunch today, again there are probably constraints on time depending on your personal schedule but the choice of what to if, if anything, is yours.

Now fast forward to this evening and what you will be eating, you may have already planned your evening meal, perhaps you will make up your mind at the last minute or perhaps you will abandon your plans to have that takeaway you’ve really developed a craving for. The power to choose is yours, as is the power to make the decision about what time you go to bed.

What would it feel like to have that power removed?

Most of us can probably recall times in our youth when we rebelled, to a greater or lesser degree, against the constraints put upon us by our parents about what time we had to come home or go to bed but imagine having the power to make decisions about your own life be taken away from you as you age, imagine the frustration you would feel.

Yet this is the situation we put many elderly people in as their own personal circumstances dictate the need for social care services. The personal power that we all take for granted is swept away and taken up by the bureaucratic process that then takes over the life of the individual.

Whether we like it or not we take away personal power the moment someone enters the care system.

Even where we use the terms empowerment and co-production the reality is personal power has been taken away.

To empower someone simply means to allow them a certain degree of power, in order to empower someone you must hold power over them in the first place in order to release that power to them, and, ultimately you still hold that power and have the power to withdraw that empowerment at any time.

Similarly, co-production, by its very name, indicates that we are allowing someone to share power about their daily lives, as with empowerment the real power lies with those who allow co-production and who, if they wish, also have the power to withdraw that sharing.

Naturally things are not quite so black and white in the real world, exercising personal power may well be dependent on personal capacity and other factors but the bottom line is personal power is removed and only partially given back within the framework of the local authority or care provider. The time many get up or go to bed is dependent on the availability of staff to assist them, what many eat is not dictated by the own personal choice but only a choice of limited availability.

We often take our own personal power for granted, for example when you do your weekly shopping you are able to make spur of the moment choices depending on your own whims, imagine the limitations on your personal power when others have to shop for you or your meals are dictated by the care home you are in.

Power in our lives is important and we need to remember how the loss of power feels to those who are vulnerable and remember that the loss of power may impact on an individual’s mental well-being and general health. Those who need social care services should be empowering us to assist them in their lives rather than social care professionals dictating lives and the amount of power a person can retain.

It is a complex area but it is important that we reflect on individual power to ensure we can, at the very least, assist people in retaining their own power rather than creating a situation where we patronisingly hand a limited amount of power back to them.