Since the implementation of the Care Act 2014, information has been a statutory duty of Local Authorities. Under the Care Act section 4 of the Care Act, Local Authorities (LAs) have particular responsibilities around providing information to carers and care and support recipients, however how that information is, or should be, provided, as well as the details of what the information should actually consist of, is not clear with different levels of accessibility, currency and commitment to the task of making information available based on geography, computer literacy and the organisations engagement with the virtual world. We are increasingly provided with links and QR codes to access information of all descriptions, from ordering food, taxis or repeat prescriptions to voting for your favourite strictly contestant and updating your electoral role address. But how do you know which information is the good information? How do you know which sources are credible and useful? And what about the estimated 6% of people in the UK who are not able to access the internet or broadband (ONS, 2021) – whether for location or financial reasons. What about them? If all the information in the world is online, are we just creating a different type of exclusion to replace our traditional view of what social inclusion should look like?
The reported findings in this paper are part of a larger study that has been reported elsewhere, but for those of you who like to head down interesting rabbit holes, also have a look at Fernandez et al, 2021; and earlier studies by Manthorpe et al 2013, Lloyd & Jessiman, 2017, for more information on the wider studies and the various implications they have highlighted. This paper details the findings of a review of public domain information. As the authors note, the review of online materials is not yet fully tested in terms of validated approaches, however they set out several steps that were taken that could be replicated to repeat and increase the sample size to provide greater reliability of the results.
The findings of this study are that the quality, comprehensiveness, coherence, and currency of Local Authority online information for carers is variable. The four authority’s websites that were examined, and the sites they linked to for further information, were not consistent and the usefulness and accessibility of information was poor in some areas. The authors recognise that when digital information is done well it is often accessible, current, and relevant, and links to other studies to provide examples. These findings are consistent with an earlier study by Lloyd (2021) who reviewed 150 web sites and found variations in how LAs presented the role of the carer and the value it brought to adult social care. The authors note that the clarity and accessibility of carer information was poor in several cases, causing more confusion than providing clarification. Social workers need to know this about their own organisations before they make a signposting recommendation, and report problems back into their organisation when information does not meet the LA duty.
Other issues highlighted in this study which are relevant to practice and which social workers would benefit from reflection about, include areas such as:
- The impact of age on the use of online and digital information, with people over 75 years old being half as likely to have access to the internet than those under 65 years old.
- That Carers are more likely to access online information if they are supported to do so, with those expected to self-seek (i.e. you can google it…) less likely to access or use online services or information.
- That there are costs incurred for carers in finding the right information in terms effort, time and personal resources and the need for good signposting is a priority as a result.
- How LA websites and NHS, and other public sector partners link their online information as part of the duty to cooperate is variable and more likely to be accessible when hosted / developed by local third sector partners, for example local charities who provide local carer services.
- That there is a clear need for social workers to check the accuracy and currency of information when they are referring carers to available sources.
As online information is increasingly being relied upon by LAs and social care services as the means of fulfilling the Care Act information duty it becomes ever more important that both LAs and the Social Worker practicing within them recognise the need for accessible, relevant, and easy-to-use digital information. Currently this is not the case, with this study highlighting the impact for access to carer information and how informal carers are supported or signposted to that information.
Strengths & Limitations
While internet information reviews are not yet very well established as a methodology, the authors both recognise this and seek to provide a process structure that contributes to the building evidence base in relation to the validity of online information review. Given that for social care most information is online, there needs to be some attention paid to this to support the evolving area.
It’s clear that the internet is not going anywhere (and neither should it), and society is becoming increasingly more virtual in its approach – its more environmentally friendly, and when done well is quick, easy and interactive. The fact that the authors recognise it’s a gap and are trying to fill it, is a strength of this paper and in my view is long overdue and one of the things that I feel makes this paper particularly significant.
As a small sample was used (4 authorities) which were selected purposively, the authors rightly note that the findings are not generalisable, however as someone that spends a lot of time on local authority and safeguarding adults board sites trying to find local information, I would be unsurprised if a review of all 152 LA’s with social services responsibilities, carried out today (January 2024) yielded very similar results, just on a larger scale. I am aware that ‘Daisy says’ isn’t valid research of any description, but then neither does it make it untrue.
Implications for Practice
While the small sample size might make generalisations difficult, the reflection questions that the authors pose to the social work profession within this paper absolutely should be reflection points for any social care practice where signposting to information is taking place. All local authorities have information on their websites, and if information is a statutory duty (in this case for carers, but the findings have implications beyond this group), social workers, and other colleagues involved in discharging the LA’s duties on the ground, need to be confident in how they navigate local information and how accessible and relevant it is to the people they support before signposting to it.
Digital literacy (or rather lack of it) is one of my big bugbears, knowing how to use IT to the best effect to support the people who need it, is a core capability and task of a social worker, and three years after the pandemic forced the world online, there are still practitioners of all flavours claiming to be technophobes. It isn’t good enough and is having an impact, as this small study highlights. As a sector we need to be saying it out loud, using evidence such as this paper from Manthorpe and colleagues to support our argument. This is an increasing issue, and we need to find a solution not just avoid the problem. What this study shows is the impact of not engaging with the digital world, and the detriment that this can create to the individual who needs good quality, current information to maintain their caring role or access additional support.
As a professional educator I concur with the authors that this is a problem, and one that is not being talked about very much, despite publication of digital capabilities for social workers, and websites increasingly being where LAs publish public information. I believe there are two separate issues at play here, firstly, how organisations set up and maintain their online presence, the resource needed to make this current, accessible and meaningful, including how it is governed and quality assured; and secondly; the access, ability and willingness of the workforce and the equipment that is made available to them to support the integration of digital literacy into day to day practice.
Since 2020 we have had over 20,000 health and social care professionals in our virtual training rooms and people not knowing how to use basic functions and programmes (including things like email, sound settings and how to open documents – this is much more endemic than struggling with the internet) is definitely not unusual; neither is out of date equipment and no access to IT skills or support. As a result many professionals opt out of using technology, or employ avoidance techniques. The concern with this is that the system and attitudinal barriers are ultimately disadvantaging some of the people social care is supposed to be empowering and supporting towards greater social inclusion.
In today’s climate, where everything from case law updates to service details are found on the web, not knowing how to access it, is akin to a builder not knowing what to do with a brick! What this study demonstrates is that the information duty the local authorities holds under the Care Act is being implemented in a scattergun way and the checks and balances that should be in place are not effective in improving the quality or experience of the end user (in this case carers looking for local information).
Conflicts of Interest:
Jill Manthorpe, Jo Moriarty, Jaqueline Damant, Nicola Brimblecombe, Joanna Marczak, Martin Knapp & José-Luis Fernández (2023) Local Online Information for Carers in England: Content and Complexity, Practice, 35:5, 425-449. https://doi.org/10.1080/09503153.2023.2232567
Fernandez, J.L., Marczak, J., Snell, T., Brimblecombe, N., Moriarty, J., Damant, J., Knapp, M. & Manthorpe, J. 2021. Supporting Carers Following the Implementation of the Care Act 2014: Eligibility, Support and Prevention: The Carers in Adult Social Care (CASC) Study. London: Care Policy and Evaluation Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science. Accessed 07/01/2024 https://www.lse.ac.uk/cpec/assets/documents/cascfinalreport.pdf
Lloyd, L., Bezzina, A. Willis, P. & Ali, B. 2021. Online information and advice to carers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bristol: University of Bristol. https://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/policybristol/briefings-and-reports-pdfs/2021/PolicyBristol_Briefing99_online-advice-carers.pdf Accessed 07/01/2024.
Lloyd, L., and T. Jessiman. 2017. The Impact of the 2014 Care Act on LA Support for Older Carers Who Provide Unpaid Care. Bristol: University of Bristol. Accessed 07/01/2024 https://www.sscr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/SSCR-research-findings_RF081.pdf
Manthorpe, J., Moriarty, J., Cornes, M., Hussein, S. & Lombard. D. 2013. “On-Line Information and Registration with Services: Patterns of Support for Carers in England.” Working with Older People 17 (3): 117–124. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/WWOP-04-2013-0007/full/html
ONS (2021) Internet Users, UK: 2020. [Online] Accessed 07/01/2024.