Shared Lives Plus

Join/Renew Log In Find Your Shared Lives Service

Date published: February 12, 2024

Buzzword busting: ‘Intersectionality,’ ‘multiple disadvantages,’ and Shared Lives.

By Ali Miller and Rebecca Viney-Wood

The care sector is full of jargon and buzzwords.

These terms don’t always feel like they apply to the everyday lives of supported people and Shared Lives carers, which is why we prefer ‘real world’ language.

Hero Image

Two buzzwords, or terms, that are increasingly popular across the care sector are ‘intersectionality’ and ‘multiple disadvantages.’ Both relate to the process of learning and respecting other people’s identities, which is something Shared Lives already does well by celebrating individuality within each arrangement.

These terms can also help us to reflect on what blind spots we might have when it comes to people’s identities and lived experiences, and how we can better take them into account in Shared Lives.


We all have multiple identities, based on our gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and class. ‘Intersectionality’ describes how we can be discriminated against in unique ways because of how our identities come together, or ‘intersect’.

Where someone or something discriminates against a person with a disability combined with another part of their identity, this is known as ‘intersectional discrimination’. For example, a Muslim woman in a hijab with a learning disability who is discriminated against is experiencing intersectional discrimination, based on multiple identities.


What counts as discrimination?

Discrimination against disabled people is also known as ‘ableism’. It can be direct, such as withdrawing a job offer when the potential employer finds out the applicant has a disability. Or it can be indirect, such as a local authority producing a leaflet without an easy-read version to save money, meaning it is not accessible to some local people with learning disabilities.

‘Multiple’ and ‘complex’ disadvantages

‘Intersectionality’ is all about how our identities can create unique experiences of discrimination. The term ‘multiple disadvantages’ focusses less on our identity, and more on how our combination of life experiences can impact us negatively.

By the time many people reach Shared Lives, they may have faced significant adversity or challenges. This includes experiences such as poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, being care experienced as well as inequalities such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and others.

When combined, these challenges can create ‘complex disadvantage’ that’s hard to overcome.  This can result in mental ill health, domestic abuse, the removal of children, homelessness, substance misuse and involvement with the criminal justice system.

Multiple and complex disadvantages are issues that come from the system, rather than being the fault of an individual. People are failed by services and systems that address one single issue, and turned away from the very services that exist to help them.

How understanding intersectionality helps our Care Leavers Project

Our current Care Leavers Project looks at the increased vulnerability of young people leaving care to exploitation and abuse. Care Leavers are often targeted in ‘Mate Crime’.

Those with learning disabilities or mental ill health are even more at risk, ‘befriended’ with the intention of being exploited and abused. The perpetrator is likely to be perceived as a friend who will use this relationship for exploitation. Shared Lives has an important role to play in supporting care leavers, modelling personal safety and healthy relationships.

Supported Parenting Project: Tackling discrimination against parents with disabilities.

In our 2022-23 Supported Parenting Project we learned that parenting support services were typically inaccessible for parents with learning disabilities. Likewise, learning disability services generally didn’t tailor support for parents and families. It is estimated that between 40% and 60% of parents with a learning disability have their children removed from their care. Our work has started to bring Shared Lives to more parents, keeping children safe and loved within their family.

Between the cracks: Domestic abuse and learning disabilities.

In our 2018-2020 Domestic Abuse Project, many disabled women, such as Amber, came into Shared Lives. These women had fallen between the cracks: On the one hand, they turned away by mainstream domestic abuse services, because they ‘couldn’t support disabled people’. Likewise, disability support services failed disabled survivors because they ‘didn’t have the expertise around domestic abuse’.

Given that one in two disabled women and one in four disabled men experience domestic abuse, it follows that disability services should be informed about domestic abuse, and vice versa. Throughout the project, many Shared Lives schemes and carers took that ‘intersectional approach’, learning more about domestic abuse, and working alongside specialist services.

How can better understanding these terms help in Shared Lives?

As seen in the Care Leavers, Supported Parenting, and Domestic Abuse projects, understanding how people’s identities and experiences can impact them negatively can be a powerful tool to better meet their needs. Shared Lives can’t erase what’s happened to people and it can’t ensure that people won’t face discrimination or adversity in the future, but we can make sure people don’t face it alone.

Shared Lives provides a holistic, person-centred approach; meeting people’s unique circumstances, and needs in a coordinated and integrated way. When we recognise and support the intersecting nature of these disadvantages, people feel heard, seen, and safe.

If you have any questions arising from this blog, please contact

Useful links: