Sustainable Care: connecting people and systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sociological Studies


Our programme focuses on the care needs of adults living at home with chronic health problems or disabilities, and seeks sustainable solutions to the UK's contemporary 'crisis of care'. It is distinctive in investigating sustainability and wellbeing in care holistically across care systems, work and relationships; addresses disconnection between theorisations of care in different disciplines; and locates all its research in the context of international scholarship, actively engaging with policy partners.

It will fill knowledge gaps, contribute new theoretical ideas and data analyses, and provide useful, accurate evidence to inform care planning, provision and experience. It develops and critically engages with policy and theoretical debates about: care infrastructure (systems, networks, partnerships, standards); divisions of caring labour/the political economy of care (inequalities, exploitation); care ethics, rights, recognition and values (frameworks, standards, entitlements, wellbeing outcomes); care technologies and human-technological interactions; and care relations in emotional, familial, community and intergenerational context.

Our team comprises 20 scholars in 7 universities, linked to an international network spanning 15 countries. Our programme comprises integrative activities, in which the whole team works together to develop a new conceptual framework on sustainable care and wellbeing, and two Work Strands, each with 4 linked projects, on 'Care Systems' & 'Care Work & Relationships'.

'Care Systems' will: (i) study prospects, developments and differentiation in the four care systems operating in England, N. Ireland, Scotland & Wales, comparing their approaches to markets, privatisation and reliance on unpaid care; (ii) model costs and contributions in care, covering those of carers and employers as well as public spending on care; (iii) assess the potential of emerging technologies to enhance care system sustainability; and (iv) analyse, in a dynamic policy context, migrant care workers' role in the sustainability of homecare.

'Care Work & Relationships' will: (i) develop case studies of emerging homecare models, and assess their implications for sustainable wellbeing; (ii) focus on carers who combine employment with unpaid care, filling gaps in knowledge about the effectiveness of workplace support and what care leave and workplace standard schemes can contribute to sustainable care arrangements; (iii) explore how care technologies can be integrated to support working carers, ensuring wellbeing outcomes across caring networks; and (iv) investigate care 'in' and 'out of' place, as systems adapt or come under pressure associated with population diversity and mobility.

Each project will collaborate with our international partners. These scholars, in 26 collaborating institutions, will ensure we learn from others about ways of understanding, measuring or interpreting developments in how care is organised and experienced, and keep up to date with latest research and scholarship.

Our capacity-building strategy will build future scholarly expertise in the study of sustainability and wellbeing in care, and ensure our concepts, methods, and research findings achieve international standards of excellence. Universities in our partnership are contributing 5 UK & 12 overseas PhD studentships, enabling us to form an international early career scholar network on sustainable care, supported by our senior team and partners.

Our impact strategy, led by Carers UK, involves leading UK and international policy partners. Informing policy, practice and debate, we will co-produce analyses and guidance, enhance data quality, promote good practice and engage decision-makers, policymakers, practitioners in the public, private and voluntary sectors, carers, people with care needs, and the media. Our Advisory Board of leading academics, policy/practice figures and opinion formers will guide all our work.

Planned Impact

Our mission is to develop and promote a deeper appreciation and implementation of sustainable care, providing lasting economic and societal benefits in care and caring and establishing human wellbeing principles across health and social care systems. We can no longer afford a fragmented set of systems and services, or care workforces that are undervalued or invisible. Our impact strategy aims to embed these findings and principles across systems, and for the people who contribute to, and should benefit from, them. 'Sustainable care' must become part of national and international narratives about responding to pressures in care systems, work & relationships.
We have built our team with impact as a central focus. Our longstanding collaboration with Carers UK has supported us in conceptualising our approach. Letters from other policy/practice partners testify to their willingness to develop coordinated messages about sustainable care aimed at making a difference at macro and micro levels. Key stakeholders have pledged to use their influence within care structures to shape and change how policymakers, decision-makers, regulatory and advisory bodies, users of care and carers, and providers of care services, act, relate to one another, organise and plan their work, re-shaping arrangements for rising care needs in a changing world. They include Care England & Unison, representing independent care providers and care workers; Telecare Services Assoc., Digital Health & Care Alliance & DHealth, offering leadership on technology and care, and Carers Resource & CIPD, leaders on work/care policy and practice for carers and HR professionals.
We are thus well positioned to influence all levels of care. At the level of systems we will use our evidence to shape future policy and practice in the UK and internationally on how care is organised, delivered, monitored and funded; how care systems are supported by families, migrant workers and care technologies; how flexibilities in employment arrangements affect care systems; and how systems can be reconfigured to meet the needs of mobile and diverse populations. By developing the leading framework for policy and practice in care and caring, we will keep the sustainability of systems and wellbeing of people at the forefront, shaping development of national guidelines with new indicators of sustainability and wellbeing to inform priorities in use of economic and human resources. Committed partners the WHO, Eurocarers, AGEWELL, CSA Group, IACO and the Swedish Care Competence Centre, with our Advisory Board, chaired by Eurofound's Robert Anderson, and with an influential membership (local government, EHRC, TUC), will help us meet this goal.
At the levels of care work and relationships, we will improve how care providers, carers, employers and people who need/receive care, experience the everyday realities of care and caring. Partners CIPD, TUC, Employers for Carers and CSA Group have pledged to work with us to change practice, disseminate messages and improve the quality of life of those who provide and receive care. Together we will influence national and international debates on paid care leave, deliver a framework for new workplace standards and establish indicators to measure the impact of workplace support for carers. Unison will engage with us to develop guidance on sustainable innovations in homecare and best practice in deployment of migrant care workers. Partners DHealth, Digital Health & Care Alliance and AGEWELL will help us influence the design, uptake and use of innovative care technologies in the UK and beyond.
We are privileged to have Madeleine Starr MBE of Carers UK as Director of Impact. Through her role our findings will feed directly into Carers UK, leveraging its proven ability to influence change at local, national & international legislative and policy levels, collaborate across a wide range of stakeholders, and engage with, consult and speak for the UK's 6.5m carers.



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