New Research on Adult Social Care during the Pandemic Presented at International Conference


WISERD Co-director Professor Paul Chaney has presented new findings on adult social care delivery during the pandemic at “Transnational and Transdisciplinary Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic – An International Symposium”. The conference was organised by Hong Kong Baptist University’s Department of Government and International Studies in association with the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies and featured speakers from across Asia and Europe.

The emerging findings were based on discourse analysis of relevant public policies, civil society organisations’ reports and parliamentary debates, complemented by interviews with third sector welfare providers, statutory regulators and other policy actors undertaken by Research Associate Dr Christala Sophocleous as part of Trust, Human Rights and Civil Society within mixed economies of welfare; a project in WISERD’s Civil Society research programme.

The term ‘adult social care’ here refers to non-medical support – including provision of social work, personal care, protection, or social support services – to adults in need, typically arising from old age. Specifically, the study examines domiciliary care in the service user’s home (as opposed to residential care homes).

The conference heard that this study was significant because of what the UK Prime Minister has referred to as a “crisis in social care”. In part, this stems from an increase in demand for care due to demographic shift with many people living longer compared to previous generations. In the UK, the number of people aged 65+ years is projected to reach one-in-four people (24.2 per cent) by 2038 (ONS, 2019). This is part of a wider, global trend: shortly, for the first time in human history the number of older people (60+ years) will exceed younger people.

This study also matters because of declining state capacity to deliver adult social care (due to austerity and other factors) and the rise of the ‘mixed economy of welfare’ (in other words welfare delivered by private and voluntary organisations as well as state providers). All of this means that the third sector is in the front line of service provision for the vulnerable. The study is also significant because it adds to our understanding of the decentralization of the welfare state in an era of multi-level governance.

The conference presentation analysed how all four national governments in the UK have provided extensive multi-million-pound funding packages to support civil society organisations. This funding consisted of blended loan and grant schemes to help civil society organisations pay their bills and ease their cash-flow (e.g. the Welsh Government’s Third Sector Resilience Fund) and funding to help more people to volunteer (e.g. the Welsh Government’s Voluntary Services Emergency Fund).

What do the research findings tell us about civil society and stakeholders’ views on the efficacy of the pandemic response?

Wales: Partnership structures between government and the third sector set out in the devolution statutes were seen as a key strength. There was a surge of volunteers in response to the emergency. Shortcomings included: the fact that the co-ordination of volunteers was acutely problematic. Notwithstanding this, as one stakeholder noted, ‘A combination of the funding available from various governments has meant that many voluntary sector organisations have been able to ‘weather the storm’ until now, especially in relation to staff losses’.

Scotland: A key theme was how “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fault lines [in adult social care] which require radical overhaul and long-term change. It has also revealed what can be achieved when obstacles are removed in a crisis”. In turn, this begged the question “Can we use hard lessons learnt during COVID-19 to value social care more, and find new ways of supporting and valuing our most vulnerable citizens?” Shortcomings included: problematic eligibility rules for emergency aid: civil society organisations relying on their reserves have mostly not been eligible for immediate crisis funding. They were only eligible when their funds were exhausted – effectively meaning they only qualified for aid when they failed financially. The Scottish data also reveals how the pandemic is driving reform: As one stakeholder noted, “We must embrace the adversity of the pandemic and seize it as an opportunity to do things differently”.

Northern Ireland: Stakeholders observed, as one interviewee put it, how “the community sector came to the fore in ways that other sectors couldn’t and wouldn’t and I think the status of the community sector has been enhanced considerably… they naturally stood up to the plate when lockdown came in and services were required. I mean, half, if not three-quarters of the public sector was at home” [i.e., incapacitated by COVID]”. There was also praise for government suspending bureaucracy during the emergency. Shortcomings included: how the pandemic underlined the need for reforms to address economic inequality and promote human rights in adult social care.


England: almost half of third sector organisations had accessed government support packages, yet in turn, almost a half of these respondents (43 per cent) gave negative replies about the effectiveness of the emergency aid. Shortcomings included: civil society organisations facing a fight for survival. As one stakeholder noted, “The crisis is biting us hard. Even with us doing everything we can (such as furloughing staff, applying for business support, paid staff voluntarily cutting their wages etc.) we will not be able to continue beyond the next few months if nothing substantial changes”.

Conclusions – Three headline findings


Stakeholders in each of the four nations spoke of how:

  • The pandemic exposed existing pathologies and the need for adult social care reform in all four nations.
  • The pandemic underlined the need for government and citizens to do more to support and value volunteering in adult social care delivery.
  • The current market-based tendering systems in adult social care gives primacy to share-holder profit – rather than welfare standards and care workers’ well-being.

You can read more about these research findings in:




Chaney, P. and Sophocleous, C. (2021) ‘Civil Society, Pandemic, and the Crisis of Welfare’, Chapter 4 in ‘Age of Uncertainty: Institutions, Governance and the Existential Challenge facing Civil Society’ (Chaney, P. and Rees Jones, I. (eds) 2021 – forthcoming) in the WISERD/ Policy Press ‘Civil Society and Social Change’ book series.