At UIC Barcelona, social agents conclude that the Dependency Law has forgotten the key role of the family

The conference participants drew up a list of best practices and recommendations for improving the Dependency Law.

On Wednesday 30 September, the Saló de Graus provided the venue for the Conference on Family and Dependency organised by the Institute of Advanced Family Studies (IESF) and the Albert J Jovell Institute for Public Health and Patients. Over the course of the day, representatives of patient, healthcare and local government associations assessed the effects of the first decade since the introduction of the Dependency Law in Spain. Dr Montserrat Gas, director of the IESF, introduced the conference by highlighting the importance of family-oriented policies as the core for social policies and she expressed her gratitude for the support received from the Molins Foundation for the research and training initiatives carried out in this respect by the Family Policy Forum. 

Throughout the day, speakers referred to the family as the base from which dependent people or those with disabilities can look after themselves and become reinserted into society, but at the same time it is the entity most overlooked by the Public Administration and especially by the Dependency Law. 

Following the opening presentation, given by the philosopher and writer Francesc Torralba, there was a round table entitled “The challenge of care and the family” with participation from patient association representatives, healthcare professionals and experts in law and the third sector. 

For her part, Dr Belén Zárate, a Faculty of Law lecturer and researcher at the UIC Barcelona Institute of Advanced Family Studies, gave her assessment of the Dependency Law and the current situation ten years on from its introduction. Specifically, she spoke about what was necessary to do, what has actually been achieved and what remains to address. In this respect, she asserted that laws such as this need to go hand-in-hand with policies on the family saying: “The state should give more assistance to families; it would be good for the law to consider introducing a catalogue of services required by the family”. 

In the same vein, Luis Cayo, president of CERMI (Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities), spoke based on his experience of dealing with the Administration. He suggested that one of the errors in the current Dependency Law is that it “it puts together in the same group people who are dependent and people with disabilities and provides them with a minimal catalogue of benefits”. He argues that “the family is the primary network of inclusion and has enormous power. The Dependency Law should be supported by social policies”. 

He also feels that the current law differs substantially from the initial idea put forward and from the associations' point of view there is, according to him, a feeling of “having been misled. It is not everything we were promised”. 

Dr Esther Lobo, from the Adult Mental Health Centre and the Ciutat Vella Day Centre of the Sant Joan de Déu Healthcare Park, spoke about the situation of mental nurses in the context of healthcare and their main requirements. She put forward the family as the basis for supporting people with mental disorders

Lluís Viguera, managing director of the Finestrelles Foundation, talked about the need for care in the family environment, the economic impact on people and the need to change focus in the approach to care. 

Lastly, Pilar Rodríguez, director of the Socio-Healthcare Operational Unit of the Association for Welfare and Development (ABD), went into the difficulties and requirements of social entitlements when managing care services for people with dependency in the context of the family. She concentrated in particular on the situation regarding the elderly and their care, a group with one of the highest levels of dependency. 

In the afternoon the participants and speakers got together in work groups from which emerged the following list of best practices and recommendations that the Public Administration should take into account to improve the Dependency Law as it currently stands:

  1. Due to its unconditional nature, the family is the institution most highly valued by young people. Therefore, it is necessary to restore leadership in care by empowering families, giving them the necessary support to increase their levels of resilience.
  2. Society subsists thanks to a tacit intergenerational pact: I'll take care of you so you can take care of me. However, the double demands of work and family and the scarcity of public and corporate policies result in a conflict of loyalties leaving people with the constant feeling that they can't cope with everything.
  3. The Spanish Dependency Law has forgotten the family as the main agent for implementing policies. Providing care is an intense, extensive and long-lasting activity requiring stable measures that go beyond governmental intervention.
  4. The big problem with social policies in Spain is that no assessment is made of their efficiency and that they are put in place without the joint intervention of the health, care and family sectors. It is necessary to work together to come up with integrated proposals that take into account the real needs of the elderly.
  5. Single-family homes with common services and social and healthcare assistance is one of the alternative proposals that opens up the residential care vs. carer dichotomy.
  6. The architecture of the 21st century will be more accessible without us even noticing. There is a new niche in the market for adapting spaces and homes that will guarantee appropriate living conditions for when people become elderly.
  7. Mental illness, which affects 27% of the population, and intellectual disability might come to be invisible thanks to policies of insertion and prevention.
  8. Old age is not a problem but rather an achievement of the welfare state and it is essential to listen more to this sector of the population to gain a better understanding of their needs and wishes regarding the lifestyle they would like to enjoy.
  9. Technology offers solutions to complex problems of mobility and disability. The new welfare society with be humanist and technological.
  10. Families are more in need of emotional support and training than they are resources. There are bodies, specifically volunteer workers, that are covering this need but they require more public support and training.