Online advice to carers: an updated review of local authority websites in England

Paul Willis Completed   2021

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unparalleled challenges for carers of significant others. It has also impacted on the levels of support Local Authorities (LAs) can provide to carers. The pandemic took hold in March 2020. In April 2020, Carers UK surveyed over 5,000 carers – 70% of carers said they were providing, on average, 10 hours a week more care and that they had anxieties over their own burnout as well as for the health of the person they support.

Objectives

This project picked up issues arising from reviews of LA websites conducted at the University of Bristol (2016–17) and LSE/King’s College London (2019). These reviews related to the implementation of the Care Act 2014 and examined how LAs use their websites to share information and provide advice and support to carers. The temporary relaxation of these responsibilities in certain circumstances was permitted under the (emergency) Coronavirus Act 2020. The 2020 Act presented an opportunity to revisit these websites to see how carers were being advised, informed and supported at this time.

A review of websites does not, of itself, enable capture of data on all forms of contact between local authorities and carers but given the wider increase in online communication, it was expected that websites would be an important instrument for the provision of information, reassurance and guidance.

Methods

Publicly available information on the websites of 150 local authorities in England was searched (August – December 2020) to identify support available to carers. The research team aimed to
identify:

  • how local authorities use their websites to inform and advise carers about support and services available to them;
  • how support and services for carers are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A data capture form was produced for each researcher to complete, focused on the following questions:

On the basis of the online information in this Local Authority area:

(a) What support is available for unpaid carers, including from third sector organisations?
(b) How is relevant information conveyed – how clear, up-to-date and user-friendly?
(c) How has support for carers been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
(d) What strategies are local authorities and their agents using to maintain, adapt or enhance support for carers?

The team held six meetings to compare information gathered and confirm findings.

Findings

  • Outsourcing support for (unpaid) carers from some Local Authorities (LAs) to Third Sector Organisations (TSO) has created a complex and fragmented system in England, demonstrated on some LA local websites.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic life ‘online’ has enabled social connections to be maintained and information to be shared by those who can use this technology.
  • There is huge variation between LA websites, calling for technical improvements in a minority as well as changes in content and tone in others to improve communication with carers.
  • Around half of LAs or their contracted TSOs were making effective use of their websites to provide clear, user-friendly information for carers, to enable carers to avoid isolation and provide a valuable lifeline at a time of intense pressure.
  • Good practice could be shared relatively easily through national organisations.