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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Adult social care – ‘What does it look and feel like when things go right?’

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

A new report from the Open University (OU) not only identifies the problem but offers a way forward – taking a positive approach to what benefits ‘relational care’ may bring.

At the House of Lords on Wednesday 17 May, researcher Jenny Kartupelis and OU colleagues Prof Mary Larkin and Dr Manik Gopinath, set out a vision for care facilities ‘where people would like to be living and working’, somewhere to ‘feel they belong, are accepted, listened to, have some control, and can support one another to live life fully.’ (‘Value and Practice of Relational Care with Older People’)

Funded by the Hallmark Foundation, the research first spells out what’s going wrong currently:

‘Right now, there are just under half a million adults living in residential care and over half a million in sheltered housing across the UK. Many more use daycare facilities. The number of people working in formal, paid adult care is some 696,000, around 2.5% of the total active workforce [, viewed April 2023]. While statistics do not show the proportion of people over 65 receiving these different types of adult social care except by government funding breakdown [The Kings Fund: Key Facts and Figures about Adult Social Care, 2021], those in this older age group represent a substantial number of people in communities of care. All these people would like to be living and working somewhere that they feel they belong, are accepted, listened to, have some control, and can support one another to live life fully.

‘Yet so much of the news about care of older people is grim. For the sector: a soaring level of turnover – 25% – in the workforce, with at least 160,000 vacancies; 18% of care settings having to close in 2022; budgets eroded by inflation. For staff: rushed and unable to give of their best, low retention affecting the formation of settled relationships, often low pay, and a lack of recognition of their skills and commitment. And most importantly for older people affected by these issues: crisis transitions into unfamiliar care; a feeling that their lives have lost worth and purpose, sometimes a disastrous disempowerment that at the worst can lead to abuse.

‘The seminal research outlined in this report offers the foundation for a way forward by taking a different, much more positive approach. The Open University team who conducted this research asked: What does it look and feel like when things go right? What is happening when it does? How easy is it to replicate?’

‘The way forward we have explored is based on “relational care” – an under-researched yet developing approach to supporting older people gaining traction as part of a wider movement towards new attitudes to, and a re-visioning of, adult social care.’

You may read:

To find out more about examples of relational care practice already implemented in a variety of UK settings, you may find this book useful: Making Relational Care Work for Older People by Jenny Kartupelis (Routledge, 2021).

Together with Anna Chaplaincy’s training and development lead, Julia Burton-Jones, Jenny Kartupelis co-authored the Anna Chaplaincy Impact Report 2021 – ‘Where we are a decade on.’

Anna Chaplaincy church lead, Debbie Ducille, Southampton City Chaplain for Older People and founder of the charity Caraway, Revd Canon Dr Erica Roberts and Anna Chaplaincy pioneer, Debbie Thrower

Wednesday’s report launch was a stimulating and enjoyable afternoon, meeting colleagues and networking with others in the care sector. Baroness Jill Piitkeathley had welcomed everyone to the riverside Cholmondeley Room, the principal function room of the House of Lords. Film clips of care home residents speaking about their experiences brought alive why relational care is so important when living independently no longer becomes possible. And Avnish Goyal, chair of Care England and of the Hallmark Foundation, spoke warmly of the impact of the research.

Following up after the event, Jenny Kartupelis and her team stressed that if you have any queries or feedback, or would like to arrange a meeting with them, they would be delighted to hear from you. You may contact them on

Jenny Kartupelis, MBE

Professor Mary Larkin (The Open University)

Dr Manik Gopinath (The Open University)




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