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Health Society

Healthier working lives for the care workforce

Developing careers. Promoting wellbeing.

Healthier Working Lives

The Innovate UK funded, Healthier Working Lives (HWL) programme assesses the challenges and opportunities for the over 50’s care workforce and is led by King's College London in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.

The team is acting to tackle a crisis facing care workers and organisations. The adult social care sector is at a tipping point. A recurring set of issues have been rendered more intense by COVID and Brexit regulations. Demoralised experienced professionals are leaving in droves, many employees are chronically underpaid and business models are broken.

The crisis is reflected in unusually high levels of workforce turnover and vacancy rates. Many service provider owners and managers are struggling to maintain care quality levels with limited resources and increasing costs.

Read insights from the project on the Healthier working lives blog.


  • To identify ways to promote healthier working lives and ageing for older care workers – developing their careers, enhancing user continuity and promoting everyone’s wellbeing.
  • To transform aspects of the care sector workforce experience and culture – making their services more agile, innovative and accessible.
  • To attract and encourage professional, respected and confident workers and improve workforce planning and support.


Co-designing with users

The co-design process places our key audience at the heart of the HWL programme. The care workers themselves and their ideas to improve their industry will inform, shape and guide the development of propositions.

Workers will be deeply involved in a collaborative process with innovators and entrepreneurs in the care and healthy ageing sectors. They will explore and co-design potential solutions to the health and professional development challenges that they face daily, for example: scheduling work shifts and tasks; passporting professional development; balancing health and personal care; and addressing pronounced risks in the light of coronavirus.



The Healthier Working Lives programme will tackle head on the need for significant practical change in the care sector at the sharp end of service delivery. The primary goal is to generate and support ideas, through the co-design and adoption of innovative products and services that address challenges in the recruitment, retention and the health and well-being of older workers, particularly in the growing residential and retirement village care sectors.

Struggling supply: There are currently an estimated 120,000 vacancies and the annual turnover of staff in the sector is around 30% – 430,000 have left in the last year. A National Care Forum survey of more than 2,000 social care services revealed that 74% of providers have reported an increase in staff exits since April 2021, with half of workers leaving due to stress. The Health Foundation suggests that over 600,000 additional care workers will be required in the UK over the next decade to meet demand, in addition to the 1.5 million existing posts.

Meeting demand: The care sector is significant – worth £15.9 billion to the UK economy. As life expectancy increases, so does the proportion of older people to the total population. One in 7 people will be aged 85+ by 2040. The UK care home population is 450,000 and growing whilst the number of care home beds available for those over 85 has fallen since 2010 – a trend predicted to continue. 82% of care workers are women and 27% are aged 55+ with many of this age group working in supervisory roles.

The over 50’s frontline care workforce is ageing whilst addressing the stresses of caring in work and caring for their families and elders, operating in demanding physical and emotional conditions. This presents a challenge to the wellbeing of staff, residents, families, and communities. Continuity in staffing, recognition of the value of their work, and supporting workers to co-determine their development needs, are central to this programme.

Innovative solutions: The products and services may be initiatives, tools, processes or resources, that will require technical, design and financial support to be attractive, relevant, user-friendly and popular. The solutions will be developed through co-design and co-production to ensure care workers and providers inform, shape and guide the proposition development process.

Knowledge network: The programme will also nurture a community of innovators and intrapreneurs in the care sector through creativity, empathy, lifelong learning and peer support amongst care workers and care providers. A richer and more diverse community of practice is an important legacy that will enable the sector to accelerate change as demand increases.

Motivating care enterprises: A key strand of the he Healthier Working Lives programme is enterprise engagement, specifically identifying and motivating enterprises to grow investable propositions that will shape the future of the care sector.

The care sector is on the cusp of significant change and we are listening to the experiences of ‘Care Trailblazers’ leading that change, breaking new ground and disrupting the market. This will enable us to identify market failures and gaps, key development themes and opportunities and areas of focus for future industry development.

We'll be hearing from the leading pioneers in the care sector, exploring their ideas and understanding their approaches to develop a body of on-the-ground evidence around the key development opportunities in the sector. Find out about the Care Trailblazers shaping the future.

Project status: Ongoing


  • Funding body: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Amount: £1.37 million
  • Period: March 2021 - February 2024


  • Residentialcare
  • Caresector
  • Careworkforce
  • Ageingpopulation
  • Careworkers
  • Healthyageing
  • Agetech
  • Healthtech
  • Design