Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science


It is generally accepted that being in good quality, safe work is beneficial for one's physical and mental wellbeing. If this is the case, being able to work healthily and happily for longer would be significant step toward meeting the UK's Healthy Ageing Challenge that people should be benefitting from five more healthy and independent years of life by 2035. Some workers are already seeking to move into more socially meaningful or personally fulfilling work as they get older, and care work has been identified as offering such opportunities. Others would choose to continue in their existing caring role if the work could be more flexible and accommodating to their work/life needs. However, the work can be physically and emotionally demanding, and it remains poorly rewarded.

The care sector is worth circa £15.9billion to the UK economy, with over 5,500 providers. Over 80% of workers are women, with 21% of BAME origin, and some 30% are aged 50 plus with many of this age group working in supervisory and managerial roles. The composition of the care workforce also reflects inequalities, reinforced by Covid-19 with the lower paid, older and BAME workers have disproportionately experienced illness and deaths across 2020. Further, the impact of changes in immigration, linked in part to Brexit, are of particular concern to both workers and providers.

Recruitment and retention are major challenges. During wave one of the Covid-19 pandemic, at times there were 120,000 vacancies many filled by agency workers (with increased risked of virus transmission). Now in wave two, providers report that fear of working in the sector is deterring prospective applicants and workers speak of their own stresses in what is also a rewarding job.

The annual turnover of staff is a third and this presents and notable challenge to the wellbeing of staff, residents, families, and communities. Continuity in staffing, recognition of the value of their work, and supporting workers to co-determine their development needs, are central to this project.

The team combines Scottish Care, which represents 400 organisations in the private, not for profit and charities sector of residential provision, Legal & General, one of the UK's leading providers of retirement villages, Codebase the largest technology incubator in the UK, which offers mentorship for the deployment of ideas, and design consultants Creative Venue (John Mathers, ex-CEO of the British Design Council, and his colleague Julian Grice, who has extensive experience in applying design disciplines to public services and policy innovation), who will work closely with care staff and the research team to explore and co-design possible solutions to the health and professional development challenges that care workers face daily. Creative Venue will also use their extensive design knowledge and networks to give care workers' ideas the best possible chance of commercial success. Researchers with decades of experience in care, health, design, business and working life from the University of Edinburgh have worked closely with partners to co-develop this project.

Across four stages over 36 months, we will revisit existing knowledge, engage with care sector staff to consider their priorities for working and role development, combine work across the team as a whole to run co-design workshops, develop ideas for outputs and products, along with a final review of the process and application of outcomes. At every stage, the role of the team is one of listening, exploring, ensuring critical conversations can take place in safe and exploratory ways, with ideas considered and potentially taken forward. Our Knowledge Network, co-chaired by Sophie Bowlby (Academic, Third Sector Board Member) and Stephen Coleman (CodeBase), has engagement from workers, care providers, design, incubator, and technology groups.


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