What is Shared Lives?

Shared Lives is a little known alternative to home care and care homes for disabled adults and older people. It is used by around 12,000 people in the UK and is available in nearly every area.

Shared Lives carers are recruited, vetted, trained and supported by local Shared Lives schemes, who have to be registered with the government's care regulator.

In Shared Lives, a Shared Lives carer and someone who needs support get to know each other and, if they both feel that they will be able to form a long-term bond, they share family and community life. This can mean that the individual becomes a regular daytime or overnight visitor to the Shared Lives carer's household, or (for 4,500 people in England) it means that the individual moves in with the Shared Lives carer. These relationships can be lifelong. Shared Lives carers often say, "She/he is just one of the family." People who use Shared Lives have often lived in many different institutions, and some have been considered too "challenging" to live in an ordinary household, but many find, for the first time, a sense of belonging with the Shared Lives carer. They will go to family events like weddings with the Shared Lives carer and get to know the Shared Lives carers' friends and neighbours. 

Shared Lives carers are paid a modest amount to cover some of their time and expenses, but they are not paid by the hour and they do huge amounts without being paid: there is no "clocking on and clocking off". Other forms of care for adults can be obsessed by keeping clear professional boundaries around the 'care giver/customer' relationship. In Shared Lives, everyone gets to contribute to real relationships and the goal is ordinary family life.

The UK is only just grasping the potential gains from families and communities contributing to the well-being of people with support needs, and of those people being active, valued citizens.

Shared Lives is used by people with learning disabilities, people with mental health problems, older people, care leavers, disabled children becoming young adults, parents with learning disabilities and their children, people who misuse substances and (ex-)offenders. There are already 12,000 Shared Lives carers in the UK, recruited, trained and approved by 150 local schemes, which are regulated by the government’s social care inspectors.

In 2010, England’s care inspectors gave 38% of Shared Lives schemes the top rating of excellent (three star): double the percentages for other forms of regulated care. When people labelled ‘challenging’ have moved from care homes or ‘assessment and referral units’ into Shared Lives households, annual savings of up to £50,000 per person have been realised. The average saving is £13,000 per person.

Care inspectors, CQC, logged 3,473 safeguarding alerts and 39,115 safeguarding concerns related to social care provision in England 2011/12. Of those, 109 concerns and just one alert arose from Shared Lives.