The Language of Care

Toby Venning

The world we live in today is actually safer than ever before. In the UK, our life expectancy has increased, and our ageing population is becoming increasingly wealthy. According to the Office of National Statistics, almost three-quarters of people aged 65 and over in England own their homes outright. Other groups often describe this demographic as older people, much to some of their discomfort or even disdain. These people are our beloved parents, grandparents, and family. They are often the leaders of our organisations, governments, communities and even the leaders of the free world. Civilisations rely on this older group of people to share their wisdom, and due to the importance of family, we have a shared goal of building a kinder and better society. The minimum we can do to inherit their sage advice and make a better world is to listen to them.

Yet among these relatively plentiful times, there is, as there always will be, pain, suffering and loneliness. These troubles are felt hardest by the most vulnerable people in society. We should always judge the health of any progressive and kind community by its willingness and decisiveness to care for those most vulnerable people.

According to the King's Fund, the total expenditure on adult social care rose to £26.9 billion in 2021/22, an increase of 3.3 per cent in cash terms and 3.8 per cent in real terms over 2020/21. This total expenditure in 2021/22 was £2.6 billion more in real terms than in 2010/11. However, some spending in 2020/21 and 2021/22 was on support for the social care sector rather than individuals care due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making totals not directly comparable with previous years.

The people who inherit the consequences of this spending change and apparent lack of policy prioritisation are the older and most vulnerable people, their care providers, carers, families, friends and communities, all of whom bear the burden one way or another. According to AgeUK’s conservative estimates, there are 4 million unpaid carers, 1.5 million people that work in adult social care, and 1.7 million people that receive care, meaning that more than 10% of the UK’s population receives or delivers care and support.

Therefore, as opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated, there has never been a better time to listen to these groups of people. Many sectors have enjoyed revolutionary leaps forward in medicine, streaming, computers, fintech, online communication, dating apps, and delivery services. However, technologists and entrepreneurs need to take advantage of the opportunity to serve the most vulnerable people in society and those who care for them.

Our purpose at Cross Digital is to empower people to live with grace, joy and dignity. Our product will be the digital aid for older people and carers, transforming how they access support services through unified care delivery, giving people more control and transparency. Through our person-centred design activity, over the past six months, we've engaged with over 200 individuals in our four user groups to understand their pains, challenges, activities, goals and times of joy.

Based on this feedback, we’ve adapted our product, including the language, functionality and usability. With language, we found out that there was a stigma among older people and informal carers about receiving care or using the word “care” to represent the support or help they received or delivered. The areas of functionality we have adapted are mass customisation allowing users to have more personalised inputs, automated and improved escalation processes and audit methodology to safeguard against incomplete/wrong information. In addition, we have also made accessibility and usability updates in our graphic user interface to accommodate the needs of less IT-literate users.

Language is perhaps at a time in history when it has never been so under attack. With the nursery rhyme, sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, all but dying a death. There is so much attention to detail given to the language we must use around each other so as not to cause offence or damage someone's mental health. Yet, in very stark terms, our level of care for one another has dwindled. Pigeonholing, categorising and creating quotas based on someone's use of language or, worse, another prescribed category can remove the opportunity for productive and authentic discourse. Instead, an adaptive and inclusive approach to language produces an embarrassment of riches in terms of helpful information to ensure you have the right problem-to-solution fit. 

Older people, care providers, carers, family and friends have demonstrated that long-term relationships with us are essential, given our product's frequency of use and security. We have updated our product-led growth strategy to ensure our user goals, activities, pains, and frustrations are at the forefront of the continued design and development of the app. We will drive user engagement through continued co-design and functionality that provides ongoing benefits, creating product stickiness. The app's daily usage will improve customer retention rates, generating trust and providing account expansion opportunities. Increasing customer lifetime value will generate positive word of mouth and drive growth. 

The key to ensuring we can pursue our purpose is first to listen, listen again and listen some more. This old-fashioned approach has revealed some ugly truths about people's perception of care and the nuances of the language of care. We have discovered heartwarming communities of carers, care providers, reading groups, charities, religious groups and neighbourhoods and have found inspiration and encouragement in people's willingness to care for each other. 

Indeed if you care enough to think, listen, respond and act, you are a carer, helper, supporter, friend or family. In closing, the language of care is complex, fluid and malleable. We should take care to ensure that our approach to this sensitive and delicate area that affects all of our lives, in one way or another, should be treated with grace, joy and dignity.

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