Eminent Buddhist commentator and analyst Yann Lovelock has written to us inviting us to contribute to a discussion promoted by Government on the future of social care for old and very old people in our society. The link leads to a short introductory vox pop video in which a number of people offer views on the issue, framing the discussion, and linked to a site that presents the issues from the perspective of the working party preparing a Green Paper. The Green Paper is part of a process by which enabling legislation will be worked up, and services designed, to meet our social care needs in the years ahead.
As Yann reminds us, some of us will soon be facing questions of what care we need, what is available, what it is going to cost, and who will foot the bill. Some of us, of course, are facing these issues already.
These questions have been framed for us by the consultation document, and seem to me to have a very New Labour quality to them, in that they arise from a set of political assumptions about the meaning of care i.e. care as a commodity that individuals will want to buy, exercising choice over their purchases, purchases designed to support their independent living, a 'marketplace' for the setting out of care-wares, care-tariffs and so on (some of these terms are my own, I must confess).
Buddhists may want to challenge these assumptions, although they may not, of course. We are all used to viewing the world, its affairs, and our atomised part in those affairs, through a narrow slit of social and political conditioning. We constantly absorb through the media of TV, press, advertising and the Internet an insistent paradigm of existence that stresses individualism, consumer choice, competition, and the all-defining lifestyle.
I live my life mainly as a consumer; I can't help it. Although I make efforts to break out of consumerist samsara, it is deeply engrained, and I have no illusions about my intentionality or volition, which is weak and intermittent. My puny efforts are debilitating and discouraging, I often feel flaked out and hopeless.
But fettered as I am by the chains of my mind, I find that I must protest, even though I can't find the words to do so, except in the anguished cry,"There must be another way"!
I feel, I intuit, that there is another way to characterise care, a framework that expresses our interdependence, our shared vulnerability, our willingness to let go of the pride and intellectual arrogance that puts independence and individualism on a lofty pedestal, that "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". I can not accept that care is, or should be, a commercial transaction, bound by contractual criteria, published as a menu of bite-sized interventions, packaged, audited, regulated, costed, 'branded', advertised, "starred", charter-marked and "visioned".
There must be another way.
N.B. I shall welcome your views, opinions and sugestions and, if you agree to my doing so, I will add them to views I am collating on behalf of the Network of Buddhist Organisations as a response to the Green Paper consultation. Or you can send them directly via the link given above.