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On 24 June 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion moved by Baroness Jolly (Liberal Democrat) that “this House takes note of social care provision in the United Kingdom, and the role of carers in that provision”.

The term ‘social care’ covers a wide range of support provided to children, young people, and working age and older adults, as well as their carers. This support can be provided formally, either by local authorities, private companies, charities, or other bodies; informally, by family members, friends, or neighbours; or through a combination of these. Although in practice it can include support for both children and adults, the term is often used as shorthand for adult social care in debates on the subject.

Social care is a devolved matter and provision differs across the UK:

  • In England, local authorities hold both responsibility for children’s social care and a formal role in assessing the need for and commissioning adult social care. Differences in budgets, costs and local authorities having discretion to provide adult care services to individuals outside of eligibility thresholds have led to variations across the country. The adult social care system has been the focus of longstanding calls for reform. The UK Government has said it will bring forward proposals to “fix” adult social care in England later this year.
  • In Scotland, where an entitlement to free personal social care has been in place since 2002, the Scottish Government has pledged to create a National Care Service.
  • In Wales, there is a cap on non-residential care fees and a £50,000 capital limit on residential care costs for adult social care.
  • In Northern Ireland, where the health and social care system is integrated, health and social care trusts hold responsibility for adult social care.

Carers may be professionals working in the sector, volunteers working for charitable bodies, or unpaid, so-called ‘informal’ carers within families and communities. In each of the UK’s four nations, the paid social care workforce represents a large proportion of employment. Estimates suggest there are 1.6 million people working in the adult social care sector in England alone.

There is a strong reliance on informal carers across the UK, and most adult social care is delivered in this way. Estimates for the number of unpaid carers vary. The Government’s family resources survey indicates that 7% of the population provided unpaid care in the 2019/2020 financial year. Reports suggest this number may have risen dramatically following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

This briefing provides an introduction to and overview of the subject. The House of Commons Library briefing ‘Coronavirus: Adult Social Care Key Issues and Sources’ (12 May 2021) provides further information on issues relating to adult social care in England during the Covid-19 pandemic.


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