Guest blog: From clenched fist to high five – embracing sustainability with a smile!
Jonathan Freeman MBE, Group Sustainability Director of CareTech Ltd, discusses the social care sector and sustainability - with thoughts on what can be done to really face up to the challenge.
I am excited to be taking part in the ESG panel at this year’s Healthcare Summit, alongside other leaders of the sector who are doing fantastic work to ensure that the social care sector is promoting sustainability across their organisations.
What excites me most about the panel discussion is, firstly, that sustainability is now firmly on the agenda of social care providers and, secondly, the positive approach that so many are now taking to this agenda.
The social care sector and sustainability
I love working in the social care sector! I am proud knowing the huge value that it delivers to society. I get to work alongside amazing individuals, who are passionate and dedicated to their roles in providing the best possible support so that others can live the most independent and dignified lives possible.
The way in which leaders across the sector are now driving important changes to address sustainability challenges is a great example of the sector at its best – tackling important but really quite tricky challenges, demonstrating innovative and creative approaches to stubborn problems, and supporting each other to deliver a vital wider social imperative.
But, unfortunately, this positive approach is an island in a sea of negativity in the sector.
Believe me, I completely understand the huge challenges that the sector is facing – and has faced for decades. The chronic under-investment, the lack of value attached to social care by politicians, the media obsession with sensationalist (and very often unfair) criticisms of the sector, the recruitment and retention issues, the public lack of awareness or appreciation of social care’s contribution… and so the list goes on.
It is all too easy, faced with this onslaught of challenges, to feel downhearted, to bemoan the system in which we operate, to throw our hands in the air…
Time and again, I see elements of the sector reacting to any proposed changes with a firmly ‘glass half empty’ perspective. Given the number of broken promises of which the sector has been on the receiving end, this is somewhat understandable. But it really doesn’t move things forward.
I know from my previous career in the Civil Service that Government and Ministers expect – and actually welcome – helpful criticism. Yes, honestly! But setting your face against any change, always responding negatively to it and forever focussing on the problems rather the opportunities is not the way to build a positive and trusting partnership. As Indira Ghandi said: "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist."
It may not feel like it, but Government knows that it needs the sector to help them achieve their ambitions. As a sector, we need to show that we are willing and active partners for delivering improvements. We may well disagree on how this is best achieved, but approaching it from a platform of positive engagement is likely to be far more productive in the long run.
My worry is that the sector could become the ‘boy who cries wolf’, consistently predicting the collapse of the sector in the face of every proposed change. And as a result, genuine concerns will be dismissed and ignored.
We all know that significant change and reform is required to ensure a social care sector of which the whole country can be proud, delivering the highest possible quality of care at an appropriate cost and taking advantage of the raft of exciting innovations now available. A sector that receives international respect and admiration, attracting the best and brightest of talent to spur us on to ever greater heights.
So, let’s show Government that we want to work positively with them on this agenda.
The ESG panel
Linking this back to the ESG panel at Healthcare Summit 2023, the leaders with which I am sharing the platform are all delivering significant change in their organisations to face up to the challenges of sustainability. They are each playing their part in making changes within their organisations, demonstrating that the social care sector is as committed to the vital challenges of sustainability as any other.
Rather than complaining about how hard it all is, how significant the challenges are, and how little support the sector is receiving on this agenda, each of these leaders (and many more) are rolling up their sleeves and playing their own part.
They are also sharing their learning with others and recognising each other’s successes – and doing so with positivity and a smile!
I do hope that others attending the Summit will join us in addressing how their organisations can face up to the sustainability challenge, and recognising that this isn’t just another problem to add to the list but an amazing opportunity to build stronger, more effective and – yes! – more financially-secure businesses.
And, in doing so, ensure that the sector and its amazing people is playing its part in tackling the greatest challenge we all face: building a sustainable future for future generations.