Imagine you’re in a kitchen
My parents made our home in rented social housing. I spent the first 19-years of my life there and never doubted for a moment that it was our family home. The fabric of that property is weaved into my memories of growing up. I remember fondly the 70’s wood panelling of our living-room that persisted too long into the 90’s. I remember making cheese n’ oatcakes with my Dad in the kitchen, then watching wrestling on a Saturday afternoon from the sofa. I remember avoiding church on Sunday by agreeing to watch Songs of Praise – on our rented Rediffusion TV – and then turning over to watch The Muppets instead. I changed channel using a dial situated behind the curtains. And, I remember my older brother turning out all the lights on the landing when I went to the loo so that he could hide under the stairs to jump out and scare me. In all that time, I don’t remember anyone ever coming into our house uninvited. What ’s more, I am confident that my family’s reaction to such an intrusion would not have been a warm one. It was not our property, but it was our home. A home where you feel safe is so much more than merely a house or a room in a building. I was talking with a Service Coordinator recently. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned something that struck me as important. She had been working with someone at their home when, after a cursory knock, another professional had entered the house using a key and joined them in the kitchen. We were talking about something else, but before she could move on, I asked some questions about the practice of entering someone’s house in that way. Apparently, it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. For the rest of that day – and the next – I asked others about their experience whenever the opportunity arose. I asked Expert Citizens. I asked managers. I asked visitors. I asked them whether people had experienced similar situations, what the circumstances were, and whether the practice was restricted to a specific setting. Anecdotally, it seems that this practice is both widespread and common. If that is the case, there needs to be some reflection and change. It is quite understandable that accommodation providers or their agents have a right of entry to their own property. This is something that I knew existed. But, what surprised me was how readily – perhaps even casually – this right appears to be exercised for people with multiple needs. Such a practice risks robbing people of their privacy and dignity as well as creating an institution out of their home. The circumstances under which this right of entry is exercised ought to be clear, exceptional, and the subject of managerial scrutiny. Such policies may be in place, but based on my conversations over the last couple of days, they may not be effective in practice. Having a place to call your home is engrained deeply in our sense of where we are, who we are, and our self-esteem. Variants of “what do you do?” and “where do you live?” are often the first questions we hear on making a new acquaintance. If people are to cast off the negative labels associated with homelessness or multiple needs, it’s important that they have a place to call their home. It seems to me that this is almost impossible if people can enter that home uninvited and with impunity. I simply couldn’t call such a place my home and believe it. If practice is to be truly informed psychologically, it’s important that we do not mistake the acquiesce of people with multiple needs for consent. Whether through conscious or unconscious action, we should remain on our guard constantly that we don’t misuse our power position. I can count the number of people I would be comfortable accessing my house uninvited on my fingers. All but two of them are in my immediate family and one of them is my partner. So, imagine you’re in your kitchen. You’re making dinner. The radio is playing and you’re singing along to Adele’s latest power ballad as you slice some carrots. You turn around to find a representative of your Landlord, your mortgage provider, or your plumber (or all three) standing there, smiling warmly. They say, “I knocked, but you didn’t answer. So, I let myself in.” What do you say to them? While I don’t pretend that my questions over the last two days could be the basis for robust conclusions, the messages were consistent enough to highlight this as an area for reflection – perhaps even some concern. The Dignity in Care website contains many useful resources to help people reflect on their practice and encourages us to become Dignity Champions (see: www.dignityincare.org.uk/Dignity-Champions). In particular, it highlights the importance of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which states that: “Everyone is entitled to have their home and family life respected.” The principles behind these resources are no less relevant to services helping people with multiple needs than in other social care or health sector settings.