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

A new report on how digital technology can support carers during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is now available.

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.

Close up hand on touch screen monitor

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 hose 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 Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities at the University of Sheffield, 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.”

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 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: “The longer we are restricted in our social interactions, there is the feeling that ‘virtual’ socialising is of less value than being face to face with your friends and loved ones.

“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. Not only during a national crisis, but that will have an impact well into the future and keep the millions of carers we have nationally in the UK, well, mentally and physically, so they can keep doing the invaluable work of unpaid care for friends and family.”

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