The White Paper: learning from history and healthy Luddism

It is now two months since the Government published the White Paper, "People at the Heart of Care: adult social care reform". The aspiration to realise the full benefits of technology is at the heart of the White Paper, and there is money following it: £150million of new funding over 3 years.

However the money itself is not enough; development has to be judged on the societal improvement it fosters. This focus on digitisation of our health and care services will succeed only if it is accompanied by fair conditions in which it is employed.

Almost 60 years ago Harold Wilson delivered one of the most memorable speeches in UK political history. His speech at the Labour Party conference of 1963 culminated in him stating that a new Britain would need to be forged in the white heat” of the scientific revolution. He went on to say that there was, "no room for Luddites in the Socialist Party".

I fully support the case for digitisation and the advantages it will bring to our society and I am also in favour of what I term healthy Luddism. People miss the point about Luddism: the Luddites, active from 1811-1816 as a secret organisation, strove to ensure that the benefits from the use of new technology were not achieved without due reference to the people operating the new machinery, their living conditions and their terms of employment.

The Luddite lesson is that the technological advances have to be co-developed with the people whose lives they are affecting.

In health and care this means that the people providing the care and support and the people receiving that care and support need to be satisfied that the new developments will lead to a better life for them all. Imposition of new tech without consultation and involvement of the main protagonists will set meaningful adoption back by many years.

In October 2021, social care leaders came together at an online round table discussion, supported by CareTech Foundation,  Purple Tuesday and Championing Social Care which was chaired by our CEO, Martin Green. The purpose of the event was to drive better awareness, understanding, knowledge and best-in-class practice for disabled people.

Tim Reddish, Board Member, International Paralympic Committee & Advisory Council Member, made the very strong point that disabled people were among the best problem solvers because they had to do it regularly in their daily lives, so their expertise should be exploited to develop new solutions. His words encapsulate the spirit of co-production in which I want innovation and tech adoption in social care to proceed.

Cautiously, I urge you to embrace true Luddism: support, foster and strive to implement new developments in digital technology whilst bringing people on the journey with you. Listen to the true lessons of Luddism and let’s aim for an inclusive development journey.