£10 million funding boost for social care research

New Centre will address the urgent need for accessible research and evidence on social care.
Shereen Hussein: "Social care affects the whole of society and touches people at every stage in their lives so it's critical we take a holistic approach."

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) will play a key role in a new Centre for Care that will support reform within the care system by providing research and evidence that can guide decision making and practice.

The new £10m Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Research Centre will be led by the University of Sheffield in collaboration with LSHTM and four other partners - the Universities of Birmingham, Kent and Oxford, the Office for National Statistics, and charities Carers UK, the National Children’s Bureau and the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

The partners will work together with academics, sector partners, agencies, public policy experts and people who need or provide care across the UK and internationally to address pressures and inequities in how people experience social care throughout their lifetime.

As part of the Centre, Professor Shereen Hussein from LSHTM will be leading a ‘Research Group on Care’ to develop policy and systemic changes required to achieve sustainable care arrangements in the UK across the life course. The aim is to understand the integral role of the workforce in enabling pathways to develop care policy and practice that are capable of withstanding new shocks, such as the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit, and the long-standing challenges, such as increasing demand and underfunding.

Professor Hussein said: “I am delighted to be part of this important development. Social care affects the whole of society and touches people at every stage in their lives so it's critical we take a holistic approach. Working with colleagues and partners from a range of disciplines, our research group will address timely issues relating to staffing and workforce development. We will bring innovative ways to deliver high-quality care which puts people first during an emerging landscape of policy changes, COVID-19 recovery and greater use of advanced technology. We look forward to working with all those involved in the Centre for Care, and building a strong network of researchers working to improve quality of care.”

The prestigious award is part of the ESRC’s programme of six new research centres that can deliver real societal and economic impact, and provide robust research evidence to support government and decision-making. ESRC’s award for the Centre for Care includes £1.5 million provided through its partnership with the National Institute for Health Research. In its first five years, the collaborating universities will also jointly contribute an additional £1.2 million to the new Centre.

Principal Investigator and Centre for Care Director Professor Sue Yeandle, in the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “The Centre for Care will be a pivotal hub for researchers and practitioners across the social care sector. Based in Sheffield, it will develop new evidence on providing and delivering the care needed by people of all ages who need support in daily life.

“Care is integral to living well throughout life. The unpaid care provided daily by millions of  families and friends; the services provided in people’s homes, neighbourhoods and communities; and the support offered in residential settings for people with complex needs  are all within the new Centre’s remit. It is vital that we understand how our society’s arrangements for care can provide the best support possible to all who need it as they negotiate changes and challenges in their lives.”

The Centre’s work will be developed in partnership with care sector organisations and people who need support in daily life. It will work with them to understand what can be done to improve experience of care for families, individuals and communities of all types and in a variety of settings. It will publish research on the following themes:

  • Experiences of care at different life stages and as people move between different parts of the care system.
  • How socio-economic, health and other inequalities shape care outcomes and experiences of care.
  • Workforce challenges; the organisation of care work; recruitment, pay and conditions; regulation; training; and raising the profile and status of jobs and careers in care.

Professor Yeandle added: “In the UK social care is a key responsibility of local authorities, provided by a complex mix of mainly commercial or not-for-profit organisations. It’s a fragmented system and many people struggle to get the help they need. We will examine whose needs are met and who misses out, as getting the right care when needed is crucial for quality of life.

“The need for improvements in social care is widely recognised; in England, the Government is poised to introduce major reforms. Our Centre will deliver much-needed research to guide policymakers across the UK, and explore how better care outcomes can be achieved.

“Everyone needs support at some point in their lives, so care matters to us all. Good care gives everyone the chance to flourish and thrive to the greatest extent possible. It offers help needed by someone in every family and by members of all communities. A key aim of the Centre for Care is to help make a positive difference in millions of people’s daily lives.”

Fully operational from March 2022, the Centre will bring together some 50 scholars: leading experts on care in multiple disciplines; 12 new post-doctoral researchers, based in the five universities; a large group of PhD students, including six commencing new studies of care in autumn 2022. Advised by a board of leading and diverse experts on care, the Centre will produce major new studies of care and build a new generation of care specialists for the years ahead.

Professor Martin Knapp, NIHR's social care spokesperson and director of the NIHR School for Social Care Research, said: "Social care, and arrangements for people who need or provide care, are under unprecedented pressure. The new Centre for Care, which NIHR is co-funding, will bring together researchers from a range of disciplines with people who need care, carers, care workers and others to undertake vital research, providing much needed evidence to enhance wellbeing and improve understanding of care."

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “Social science research is central to our efforts to build back better from the pandemic. The latest ESRC research centres will focus on some of the key societal issues to be addressed, such as social care, policing, inequalities between generations and the impact of digital technologies, and will help maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of social science research.”

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