Caring for our carers: report calls for investment in digital tech to support unpaid carers in lockdown

11th November 2020

A new report launched this week urges local authorities to invest in digital technology to support unpaid carers during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Caring during lockdown: Challenges and opportunities for digitally supporting carers sets out key recommendations to assist local authorities in caring for their carers; by facilitating ways the caring community can maintain its vital network of peer support during a national emergency.

Academics from the University of Sheffield and University of Liverpool, studied data from 118 carers during the first Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. The team analysed unique, proprietary data to explore the carers’ experiences through their use of digital technology to stay connected, and access support and services from their local authority.

The participants socialised over Virtual Cuppas hosted by a professional Carers Coach from Mobilise - a tech company started and run by carers - to facilitate discussion and help identify challenges the carers are facing and solutions for them to consider.

During the four months of the first lockdown, the participant carers discussed significant challenges affecting their health and wellbeing in the digital groups, including; a perceived lack of information and social restrictions impacting their sense of certainty, control and levels of motivation, increased anxiety around access to health services and local authority support and those with dual roles, such as carer and mother, also had difficulty finding a work-life balanced during lockdown. Over time, these led to feelings of exhaustion and burnout amongst the carers, with many reporting social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Dr Matthew Lariviere, a UKRI Innovation Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities, and principal investigator of the report, said: “Previous research the University of Sheffield conducted with Carers UK suggested that unpaid carers save the UK economy £132 billion annually in the work they do. Therefore it is important that we recognise the value of unpaid carers in our communities.

“With so many carers reporting increasing feelings of social isolation, loneliness, fatigue and burnout during the last lockdown, it is vital we find ways of making the right kinds of support available and accessible to help them through this lockdown, and any other instances of national crisis in the future.”

The report sheds light on how carers came together for virtual face-to-face time, via a digital platform like Mobilise’s Virtual Cuppas; to find solutions to their problems and draw on resources, and each other, for practical and moral support.

The Virtual Cuppas provided the opportunity for participants to share tips and community resources, helping carers build resilience and adapt to the new restrictions in lockdown.  They noted that feeling part of a community with people in similar caring situations also helped reduce stress levels and kept the participants motivated during an incredibly challenging four months. They reported the time spent together was of great value and kept them motivated. One participant said:

“I think that’s what’s keeping me going actually is just knowing that the community is pulling together out there and properly falling over themselves trying to do stuff… I feel that if I need something there’s a multitude of people I can rely on.”

James Townsend, CEO and Co-Founder of Mobilise, said: "We've been inspired by carers coming together through the Mobilise cuppas to support each other at this acutely difficult time. These findings have shown that with rigorous facilitation and the right skillset, online channels can open up a significant opportunity for local authorities to transform their support for carers."

Following the study, the report recommends four key ways local authorities can ensure their carers are supported as effectively as possible during a national crisis:

  • Invest in additional accessible support for carers during national crises when access to traditional services is restricted
  • Invest in innovations and infrastructure that can keep carers connected and ensure they have the technology join that new support
  • Invest in programmes for digital literacy amongst carers, to ensure they are empowered to access the community during a national crisis
  • To consider how these additional methods of support are sustainable and can be adapted when restrictions begin to ease

Dr Lariviere, added: “Our report shows that facilitating digital ways to connect and communicate, ultimately provided valuable support for carers, and by the end of the first national lockdown, the participants felt a genuine sense of community, lifting their spirits and helping them to continue to work in their caring role.

“The recommendations are designed to have impact, showing what can be done, right now to help people. Local authorities can implement strategies to close the digital divide for certain groups in society and create access to effective platforms to identify and share available resources for carers; being of benefit not only during a national crisis, but well into the future.”

Dr Lariviere was also involved in curating ‘I'll Be Here in the Morning’ a new digital art exhibition which opened this week, exploring the experience of carers and care-experienced people. The exhibition presents artwork created by those in the care community, representing and expressing their feelings about the care experience. The exhibition forms part of the University of Sheffield’s ‘Understanding Society’ programme for the national Festival of Social Science, running until Sunday 15 November 2020.

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