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On this page, find out about the definitions and meanings that Shaping Our Lives uses. What does the term ‘service user’ mean? And what is a user-led organisation?

Pictoral representation of a meeting at NSUN, with comments written up on a large banner accompanied by drawings.

What do we mean when we say ‘service user’?

  • It means that we are in an unequal and oppressive relationship with the State and society.
  • It is about entitlement to receive welfare services. This includes the past when we might have received them, and the present. Some people still need to receive services but are no longer entitled to them, for many different reasons.
  • It may mean having to use services for a long time, which separates us from other people, making some think we are inferior and that there is something wrong with us.
  • Being a service user means that we can identify and recognise that we share a lot of experiences with a wide range of other people who use services. This might include, for example, young people with experience of being looked after in care, people with learning difficulties, mental health service users, older people, physically and/or sensory impaired people, people using palliative care services and people with drug and alcohol problems.
  • Recognising our shared experiences of using services, whoever we are, makes us powerful and gives us a strong voice to improve the services we are given, and more control and say over what kind of services we want.

What people sometimes mean by the term ‘service user’ ?

The term ‘service user’ can be used to restrict your identity, as if all you are is a passive receiver of health and welfare services, someone who quietly accepts having things ‘done to them’.

This makes it seem that the most important thing about you is that you use services (or have used them). It ignores all the other things you do, and which make up who you are as a person. This is NOT what Shaping Our Lives means when we talk of ‘service users’.

Find out more about Shaping Our Lives and our work on service user involvement

What do we mean when we say ‘user-controlled’? 

There is a range of meanings of ‘user controlled’. Here are some of the things Shaping Our Lives thinks ‘user controlled’ could include:

  • That service users decide what and how they want things done.
  • That the majority of the controlling group of an organisation (usually the management committee) are users of the organisation, or members of the group for whom it was set up.
  • That an organisation strives to work from an equalities approach to service users.
  • We have a directory of user-led groups on our website