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12th December 2015

Spirituality and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, 2014

Christmas decoration with a burning candleOn the Radio 4 Today programme this week, they reported that for the first time the majority of people in the UK would describe themselves as something other than Christian. That ‘something other’ might be another faith, a secular belief such as humanism, or no belief ‘system’ at all. It brought to mind that part of the responsibility of social care is that it is able to cater for such a wide range of beliefs and attitudes. And to do this in as fair and equitable manner as possible.

So it also got me thinking about the new Act, and the eight core determinants against which well-being is to be assessed and measured. Interestingly none of them explicitly addresses spiritual needs. So perhaps we have not only outgrown Christianity as a society, but also spirituality?

The case for abandoning spirituality.

Does anyone really know what this word means? If the answer is ‘no’ then surely that in itself seems like a good idea for abandoning it. It certainly seems difficult to pin it down and often it can mean different things to different people. Another reason to abandon it perhaps…it’s just far too subjective. It also seems to complicate matters when people come to spirituality from differing and sometimes oppositional or antagonistic standpoints. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist…sometimes they clash rather than chime. Another reason to consign them to the file marked ‘no longer helpful’.

We live in a secular age, our laws are based upon secular principles. It’s time to pack-up the spiritual tent, it may have kept the cosmic-rain off once, but it’s time to move on?’

The case against abandoning spirituality.

When ‘push comes to shove’ as the saying goes, human beings fall back upon religious or spiritual practices. This point is illustrated by various apocryphal sayings …’there are no atheists on the battlefield…’ or the caricatures of families who only appear at church for christenings, weddings, funerals and possibly Christmas. I guess the point is that for the high-points and low-points of life, we look for something beyond our own mortal limitations. And this seems to apply to many people who would describe themselves as falling into ‘the something other’ camp as well as those of faith.

We now live in far more pluralistic communities than previous generations. It seems right that our public services embrace this diversity and do not impose any single world-view (religious or secular) upon the populace. However it may be a mistake to link too strongly the ideas of religion and spirituality. Many people acknowledge a spiritual dimension either inside or outside of a formal religious perspective. If we are to truly address well-being goals, we must find a way of acknowledging and working with the spiritual dimension in its broadest and not- necessarily-religious sense.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Nic Bowler

Welsh Care and Social Services Inspectorate Specialist

Dr Nicholas Bowler is a researcher and consultant to government-level [Welsh Government Review of Secure Services, 2009] – specialising in QA/compliance focused projects. He has interests in clinically relevant training, service development and research. He enjoys working with clients to support them in identifying problems and initiating projects to improve practice.

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