The contribution of social workers to older people’s well-being

Denise Tanner In progress  


Social care is increasingly important in our ageing society. It should promote well-being, prevent loss of independence and protect people from harm. Social workers have a central role in the law, policy and practice of social care. However, there is limited research and understanding about how social workers work with the largest group of social care users – older people – and their carers. (‘Older people’ is used to mean people over the age of 65 and ‘carers’ to mean people who provide regular unpaid help to support them).




This project will examine what difference social workers make to older people and carers’ lives and how they do this. It will capture the knowledge, tasks, skills, values and contribution of this important area of social care. This will enable stakeholders – national and local government, employers, practitioners, adults and carers, and the wider public – to better deliver social work when and where it is needed. British Association of Social Worker (BASW) is represented in the research team, strengthening the study’s potential impact on the profession.

This project builds on a recent SSCR project, led by University of Bristol (Lloyd and Willis, 2019; Willis et al (2021) which produced five case studies of innovative and promising social work practice with older people. The current study focuses on the detail of practice, asking: What difference can a social worker make to an older person’s life?


This project will work alongside social workers in two authorities in England, one rural and one urban. With service users’ consent, a researcher will get as close as possible to practice. This will include accompanying the social worker either physically or virtually, asking them to make live recordings of their work or record their audio reflections afterwards.

This will gain insight into the detail of social work, how social workers and others perceive this, and how the context affects it. The points at which social workers intervene in the care journeys of older people and carers will be captured, including at the start of receiving formal care, on discharge from hospital, when entering periods of respite or permanent care or when safeguarding concerns are raised.

This project will explore the social work experience over time for a small number of older people. This will involve reading their records, observing their interactions with social workers and talking to them about what they have found helpful and not helpful. Interviews will be carried out with other key people involved in their care, including their carers/families, managers and other health and social care professionals whose work intersects with the social workers. This will help improve understanding of how social work practice is experienced by others who provide support to older people and how social work contributes to their work.

Social work takes place in different locations, including offices, care settings and remote working from social workers’ own homes, and in different organisational structures, including multi-disciplinary teams. This research will explore how practice is influenced by, and experienced in, different physical and organisational environments.