Tech is not the (only) answer: doteveryone’s Better Care Systems project
- 19 February 2019
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: News
The responsible-tech research organisation doteveryone recently launched their Better Care Systems project, which aims to answer the following questions:
- What are the future social impacts of care technologies that we need to be thinking about now?
- How do both the UK’s care infrastructure, and care technologies themselves, need to change to anticipate these impacts?
- In a technology-mediated society, how can the wider effects of care relationships be better recognised and understood?
But why care about care in the first place? Project lead Lydia Nicholas explains:
Automation has been hailed as a potential saviour for the sector, but how this would work, is still up for debate. There are many complicating factors, from the difficulty of designing robots with the dexterity to help people dress and bathe, to the structural question of who will invest in and own these expensive automated systems, and where savings and profits will flow.
We might baulk at the idea of a robot providing care, but that is not the only way technology can cause harm. When human carers are being exploited, with their work monitored and controlled by algorithms that push them to the point of exhaustion in the name of efficiency, the ‘human touch’ may still be lost.Lydia Nicholas
A significant part of the problem is the contradiction whereby we proclaim our admiration and respect for those who undertake caring roles, but consistently refuse to pay anywhere near what the service is actually worth. The causes of this contradiction are manifold:
As an individualistic society, we do not like to think about needing help. We definitely do not like to think about being supported to use the toilet, or becoming so confused and afraid in the grip of dementia that we need to be patiently helped to eat or wash. Confronting social care needs, or admitting that we have needs, is uncomfortable.
In a capitalist society, we often believe people are worth what they produce. People who are unable to work may not able to pay for the services they need. When society fails a person, we too easily assume this is because of a failure of the person. We end up accusing vulnerable people, as the UN inquiry found, of “being lazy or putting a burden on taxpayers”.
Harmful stereotypes also affect the work of care and the people who do it. It is assumed to be easy or simple, low-status and even shameful — a “glorified bottom wiper” as one frustrated carer memorably put it.
While many people work in care, the majority (82% of the social care workforce) are women and an image persists of it as women’s work; more than that, something that women should do out of love or duty.
The consequences are clear: “we do not provide resources for [care] to work well. Our services become brittle and fragile; people fall through the cracks, problems are missed until they escalate and become more expensive. Our most vulnerable people are warehoused- kept alive but given no chance of a real life.”
Doteveryone’s Better Care Systems project is ongoing, and they’re actively soliciting inputs from practitioners and service users alike — contact them here to get involved, and keep an eye open for further updates and essays at the doteveryone blog.