Intergenerational Care in the time of Covid-19

One of the emerging themes of the current crisis is the awareness of a previous undervaluing of carers. As one carer has put it, “We have gone from ‘low-skilled’ workers to ‘key’ workers in less than a month – but our jobs remain the same, caring for the most vulnerable in our society.”

CARE is the simple word that will be on the new badges to be worn by workers in this sector, in recognition of what they do, and for the rest of us to recognise them as they go about their work. This simple word “care” is also a very precious one, but it has been open to misuse, or at least misapprehension in recent years.

Children removed from their birth parents in the UK are frequently described as “looked-after children”, or having been “taken into care”. Reports, and criminal trials, have shown that in many cases being looked after or shown care is far from what these youngsters have actually experienced. Using the word “care” hardly guarantees that this is what is being offered. This is no criticism of individual children and youth service social workers, but a fault-line in the whole of society’s responsibility to its most vulnerable members.

Care Homes are associated most often with the elderly and sufferers from dementia, but in fact a wide-range of needs and age of residents makes up this sector. Stories and coverage in the press in recent days have given a voice to those managing, under extremely difficult conditions, to keep these residents safe and indeed cared for. To this observer at least, the quiet, professional dignity and genuine compassion shown by care workers has been humbling and revealing.

For these are the people who do the jobs that many of us either cannot or will not do. The phrase “personal care” covers all the basic needs of keeping someone clean, fed and comfortable, but it is also about becoming a trusted presence in that person’s life while these intimate tasks are undertaken. To see this care as “low-skilled” is to misunderstand not just the value of care, but the meaning of being human.

On our screens have been carers, usually younger, often immigrant, almost always women, talking not about their pay, or their grievances, but about their worries for the people they are looking after. This intergenerational care is especially poignant at the moment, as the statistics for this disease tell of a stark age differential. The older and more infirm you are the more likely Covid-19 infection is to be fatal.

This has led to 1.5 million primarily older people to have been instructed to self-isolate for at least three months. The pattern of living in the UK means that for many of these 1.5 million it will be at least three months without seeing children or grandchildren. Those families who live with older relatives may have even more troubling concerns – how to protect grandparents while some household members have to go to out to work.

Bryan Sanderson CBE, Chairman of Home Renaissance Foundation offers a positive personal insight into this time as he acknowledges that social-distancing from grandchildren is particularly hard if, as his family are, we are used to spending time together. The new technology is a life-line, and keeping in contact via facetime, skype or zoom, makes this deeply unsettling time more bearable. Those needing care now, have all been caregivers in the past. Remembering our interconnectedness and our interdependence stops care becoming someone else’s responsibility and returns to its place at the heart of our lives and our homes.

We cannot yet see what the aftermath of this crisis will hold, but whatever else changes and is never the same again after Covid-19, let us hope that the undervaluing of care and carers are at the top of the list.

Why does HRF exist?

The summer season may now have faded, but it has left behind such happy memories. It is the season when, in my case, you can use your holiday time to return home after working outside your city or country, a time for happy reunions.

“What about your life? How are you getting on? Are you working abroad, away from your family? These are questions that I answer again and again when my work for Home Renaissance Foundation comes to light.

I often explain my professional activity by saying that I work for a think tank, but people usually want to know what kind of a think tank. And I explain that HRF explores the care of the home, helping it to be more effective and better managed, so we can all benefit from happier homes. Homes where family members develop into well-grounded adults, sharing responsibilities and looking after the welfare of everyone. The response is often along the lines of “please tell me more, I didn’t realise a foundation exists that could help me in all the headaches of running my home!”

We devote many more hours working outside our homes, but at the end of the day, we have to come back home. And home is the place where we spend most time together, relaxing and being ourselves and giving ourselves generously to others. And it is not always easy. We are not born able to do this. The home we come from may differ from the one we go on to create, although it retains a common structure. Life changes and evolves, with new technologies offering solutions that were not available in the past. Each home is different and managed in its own individual way. The ideal is that we understand the concept of the well-run home and avail ourselves of all the tools necessary to enable us to manage our homes in the best possible way.

And that is why HRF exists because we are aware of the importance of the home and the effort and work required to manage and run a home and family. And we are aware, through investigation and using more advanced data, the extent of the disciplines and fields of study that converge on the home – the importance of the distribution of space, the relations between its members, shared responsibilities, the education and the example of parents, the work necessary to provide for basic needs, the demand for collaboration among all its members.

The work of this international think tank is never ending. We are actively planning our fifth international conference to be held in 2020. We hope that those involved in exploring issues related to the home will be presenting papers and help further expand the growing community worldwide focused on the well-being of the home. Watch this space for more details next month.

“Society”: you, me, us, all

When we speak of “society” it can seem like something that does not have anything to do with us. We happily use the term society to refer to the number of problems that exist in it, but we are not aware that society is us. Society can only improve if everyone puts in their two-penny worth. Because society means everyone, including you!

For this reason, when the Home Renaissance Foundation affirms that society can collapse without well-managed homes, we observe that nobody is surprised, nobody screams, no one tears their clothes as though bemoaning a great loss. A dysfunctional society is a society that does not advance or grow, and we understand that nobody wants that, but it does not penetrate the heart or thoughts of many because the concept of “society” becomes more remote with the passing of each day.

It may be that another reason why we no longer give value to the idea of “society” is the lack of feeling of belonging. We do not belong to the “society”, we belong to the school football club, the neighbourhood association, the tennis club, the local gym. We feel part of groups or communities where we have a degree of influence, either because we pay a subscription, or because we feel we belong there and that our opinion matters.

And of course, you may say that apart from the taxes we pay in exchange for basic services, why should we feel part of a “society” where our opinion doesn’t appear to matter and authorities never consult us when making decisions? Who asks me what I think before introducing or abolishing laws?  We may feel so far removed from the management and governance of that “society” that we distance ourselves from the idea of society as a whole.

But like everything in life, nothing can be understood or seen in its true perspective if we cannot visualise it in a particular way. And to recover the meaning of “society”, we should take as an example that small and close “society” that we have in our immediate environment, the one in which our opinions matter, where we feel part of, that takes our feelings and opinions into account … namely, the home. Our family is a microcosm of society. And we feel that we belong there because of the unity that exists between members of our home. Each action we take has a consequence, which is normally direct and immediate.

At HRF we examine the home in-depth from many different angles, as a reflecting mirror for society. When households do not function well, the knock-on effect is immediate and direct on society.  We should therefore first and foremost take great care of the home as the microcosm of society.