The importance of leisure

Published on 20 Oct 2014

One of my biggest criticisms of the way social care currently works, and where there is a conflict with the principles of independent living, is its distaste for leisure activities. When social workers seemed focused on the basics of keeping people alive and healthy, leisure is frowned upon as a luxury only available to those who are creative enough with their personal budgets, particularly also only for people with learning difficulties.

I do not believe leisure is a luxury but at the same time, I also do not believe it is an absolute right, since I do not believe that this way of thinking is helpful. I believe it is important to understand that access to leisure activities is not an outcome in itself, but a solution that can meet particular outcomes for specific people. This means that the access to leisure activities should be provided to people, on a case by case basis, if it can support them to meet their short term and long term outcomes.

These outcomes may include maintaining positive mental wellbeing, especially if someone is working, since everyone has to balance their left brain activities with their right brain activities. Those who work hard often need to play hard to avoid a mental breakdown, especially if they have existing mental health issues to manage that may or may not be formally acknowledged. The point of supporting leisure is often to prevent someone with physical or learning difficulties ending up being a formal mental health user accessing a range of more costly services.

Another longer term outcome where supporting leisure could help is preparing people to access employment opportunities, as a way to develop confidence and learn new skills. The problem with supporting people into paid employment currently is that relevant bodies seem to ignore the emotional journey people need to travel to be ready for work. Leisure can be a fun way to support people in understanding their skills as a form of non-formal learning. Clearly in this context, the leisure opportunities would need to be properly structured to fulfil the outcomes they are intended for.

I think the issue shows the importance of understanding the totality of the outcomes many solutions can bring. While on the surface a body wash meets the same outcomes as a hot shower, the later also provides the feeling of cleanliness as well as relaxing muscles (where a body wash can indeed tighten them) that can improve self-esteem and increase their ability to interact with others. A body wash can actually decrease self-esteem and result in depression and despair.

Leisure is an important part of the human experience and social workers need to embrace the benefits that it can bring as a mechanism of preventing longer term harm, as well as developing people to be fully active citizens. While reduced budgets means decisions are harder, it should not mean that leisure opportunities has to be simply halted as a matter of policy, certainly not in this era of personalisation.