A study from LSE's Care Policy and Evaluation Centre has identified that although local authority staff were receptive to and appreciative of the clarity around carers’ rights brought about by the Care Act of 2014, there has been a disconnect between the objectives of the Act and its implementation.
The Care Act of 2014 has been seen as a seminal piece of legislation for carer advocacy. The Act was meant to clarify and enhance the rights of carers and was expected to increase community engagement between local authorities and carers whilst providing more accessible support and information to the nearly 6 million carers living in England.
Researchers from CPEC and the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce at King’s College London examined the consequences of the Care Act 2014 on carers in England. They explored changes since its implementation in how local authorities identify, assess and respond to carers’ needs. The research included questions on whether has there been increased local authority support for carers, if these support services were designed with carers’ wellbeing in mind, and whether adequate information and support readily accessible and utilised.
The study found that local authority staff were receptive to and appreciative of the clarity brought about the Act when it came to defining carers’ rights, something that was widely expected to lead to increases in levels of demand for carer support. This expectation led to increased collaboration between carers’ organisations, local authorities, carers stakeholders and often with NHS agencies.
However, the researchers found a disconnect between the objectives of the Act and its deployment. While the Care Act had gone far in areas such as information access and clearly defining the role and responsibilities of the state to the carer, the study did not find evidence of significant increases in the number of supported carers. The support provided by local authorities focused on providing advice and information over the provision of replacement care or direct payments, which are often crucial to supporting carers in employment. In addition, replacement personal care services were redefined as services for the person cared for (as opposed to as services for supporting carers) and were therefore subject to the social care financial means-test.
As a result, and contrary to expectation, the volume of carer assessments, the numbers of carers utilising support, and expenditure on carer specific services all decreased after the introduction of the Care Act, as did carer satisfaction.
The impact of the 2014 Care Act on carers in England could be described as a combination of conceptual achievements and practical challenges. The improved clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the state towards carers was notable and widely welcomed by social care stakeholders. However, the impact of strengthened carers’ rights appears to have been limited by the requirement for local authorities to keep within budget, and as a result these rights have not led to greater access to support for carers.
The study was completed prior to COVID-19, and further research is needed to review the impact of the Care Act post-pandemic.