School of Social and Political Science

Research project type

Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce




Our ambitions

The Innovate UK-funded, University of Edinburgh-led Healthier Working Lives programme assesses the challenges and opportunities for the over-50s care workforce.

Our ambitions are to identify ways to promote healthier working lives and ageing for older care workers – developing their careers, enhancing user continuity and promoting everyone’s wellbeing.

Key dimensions of the care sector are in crisis and it has never been more crucial to encourage professional, respected and confident workers along with workforce planning and support. Critically, from its inception the programme aims to transform aspects of the care sector though co-production with care workers. This will stimulate intrapreneurship to generate innovative products and services that have impact at scale. It is our ambition that the legacy of the programme will be sustained well beyond the lifetime of this work .

Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce runs for three years from March 2021 to March 2024 and the Univerity of Edinburgh is partnering with Codebase, Creative Venue, Legal and General, Scottish Care and the University of Reading.

The care-sector problem

The Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce programme team is acting to tackle a crisis facing care workers and organisations - low-paid, insecure employment and tiring physical and emotional conditions. This is reflected in unusually high levels of workforce turnover and vacancy rates. Care is a mixed-economy sector and many service-provider owners and managers are struggling to maintain care-quality levels with limited resources and increasing costs.

Add to this the challenge that the over-50s frontline-care workforce is experiencing its own ageing whilst addressing the stresses of caring in work and caring for their families and elders. This is a critical situation made worse by the pandemic.

At its heart, the programme will engage care workers, care-service-providers leaders, solution providers and stakeholder groups to accelerate innovation and develop scaleable and spreadable solutions that make careers in the care profession attractive and aspirational.

Who the programme will benefit

The ambition of Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce is to benefit:

  • Care workers – making their work more rewarding and satisfying
  • Care-service providers – making their services more agile, innovative and accessible
  • Solution providers – making the market more receptive to their propositions and the market more dynamic

This will result in stimulating organisational and cultural change across this large and important sector, and encourage service providers into new ways of thinking and delivering to grow capacity and capability.

What the programme will achieve

The Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce programme will tackle head on the need for significant practical change in the sector at the sharp end of service delivery. The primary goal is to generate and support ideas, co-design and adoption of innovative products and services that address challenges in the recruitment, retention and enhancement of the health and well-being of older workers particularly in the growing residential and retirement village care sectors.

Innovative solutions. The products and services may be initiatives, tools, processes or resources, that will require technical, design and financial support to be attractive, relevant, user-friendly and popular. The solutions will be developed through co-design and co-production that ensures care workers and providers inform, shape and guide the proposition development process.

Knowledge network. The programme will also nurture a community of innovators and intrapreneurs in the care sector through creativity, empathy, lifelong learning and peer support amongst care workers and care providers. A richer and more diverse community of practice is an important legacy that will enable the sector to accelerate change as demand increases.

Act now. If you’re in the care sector or want to enter the industry, join our knowledge network. Register today because we want to hear your ideas.

Addressing care-demand pressure and supply crisis

This Healthier Working Lives for the care workforce programme will address a perfect storm of sustained and increasing demand coupled with a volatile supply side struggling to deliver.

Demand. One in 12 people in the UK are over 75 and by 2040 this will rise to one in seven.

A third of children born now are expected to live to 100. On average, people aged 65 will live just half of the rest of their life without disability. The UK care home population is 450,000 and growing.

This presents a 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 programme.

Recruitment and retention are major challenges.
There are currently an estimated 120,000 vacancies, many filled by agency workers The annual turnover of staff is around 30% - 430,000 left in the last 12 months. Twenty five per cent of 16–25-year-olds are expecting to pursue a career in the sector in the near future.

Supply. The care sector is worth circa £15.9billion to the UK economy.
More than 5,500 providers managing 16,000 UK care homes employ 650,000 people. Eighty two per cent of workers are women, with 21% of BAME origin. Twenty seven per cent of workers are aged 55+ with many of this age group working in supervisory roles.


Before-and-after care stories

The programme will identify a series of typical real-life stories based on the latest understanding of the challenges facing the sector. The aim is to galvanise the energy and focus needed to develop the ideas for novel products and services in the market.

Making the challenges ‘real’ will give entrepreneurs a true sense of what they can achieve and the difference they can make for the people in the care industry.

Act now. If you have a story to tell, register today because we want to hear your experience and ideas.

Showcasing care trailblazers

The care sector is on the cusp of significant change and the programme aims to discover and listen to the experiences of ‘care trailblazers’ leading that change, breaking new ground and disrupting the market. This will enable the programme team to identify market failures and gaps, key development themes and opportunities and areas of focus for future programme and industry development.

The programme will listen to the leading pioneers in the care sector, exploring their views and understanding their thinking to develop a body of on-the-ground evidence around the key development opportunities in the care sector.

Act now. If you’d like to be considered one of the programme trailblazers, register today because we want to hear about the impact you’re having.

Co-designing with users

The co-design process places our key audience at the heart of our work. The care workers themselves and the ideas that have about their industry will inform, shape and guide the proposition development process. They will be deeply involved in a collaborative process with innovators and entrepreneurs in the care and healthy ageing sectors.

They will explore and co-design potential solutions to the health and professional development challenges that care workers face daily, for example: scheduling work shifts and tasks; passporting professional development; balancing health and personal care; and addressing pronounced risks in the light of coronavirus. The co-design process will be led by a University of Edinburgh specialist team and key members of the programme team.

Act now. If you’d like to be involved in the co-design process, register today because we want to learn from your experience and ideas.

Leading industry partners

The programme is funded through UKRI’s Healthy Ageing Challenge and led by the University of Edinburgh, partnering with Codebase, Creative Venue, Legal and General, Scottish Care and the University of Reading.

The University of Edinburgh and the University of Reading are hosting the programme, with team members highly experienced in ageing, workforce, inequalities, and care and research methods. Experts have been recruited including a programme manager, co-design lead and research lead.

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 programme. The programme offers career development for those on the team and we are working to build care research as a field of work in research and education.

  • Codebase is the largest technology incubator in the UK, which offers mentorship for the deployment of ideas.
  • Creative Venue (John Mathers, ex-CEO of the British Design Council, and Julian Grice) have advised with the healthy ageing challenge and deliver design growth training and development to the Community of Practice with the Centre for Ageing Better.
  • Legal & General is one of the UK's leading providers of retirement villages.
  • Scottish Care represents 400 organisations in the private, not-for-profit and charities sector of residential provision.

Care industry insight and reports

The care industry is actively gathering insight and findings. Here are some key reports that describe change in the industry:

  • IMPACT Centre, UK Centre for Evidence Implementation in Adult Social Care
    Briefing March 2021

    IMPACT is a new centre that aims to support best use of evidence in adult social care. It will work in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and aims to improve outcomes for people who use services and carers. Good care, we believe, is about more than services – it’s about having a life.

    The Centre is currently in a development phase, involving consultation with stakeholders to gather views to inform the Centre’s work and to develop new ways of working. They are also conducting a survey to inform the work, which can be found here:


To contact the HWL team, please email



Research themes

  • Health & Well-being
  • Health inequalities, disability and older people
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