Delivering social care in a changing climate

Weather disruption is a ‘system stressor’ that is projected to increase in the coming decades as the global climate changes. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment has identified climate change as one of the greatest risks to public health in the UK, and one which will impact vulnerable people disproportionally.

This project looks at how providers of social care support at home in Scotland respond to extreme weather events. Based on experience from three case studies of extreme weather, it considers how the sector is planning for, dealing with and learning from such events. The study only looks at support provided in people’s homes. It does not address care provided in other settings such as residential care homes.

The report is a first step in making an assessment of the social care support sector’s resilience to climate change and helping to improve this. The research is based on interviews with social care providers and with those working in business continuity, emergency planning and community resilience in six geographical focus areas. It also involved desk research, drawing on strategies and plans relevant to the provision of social care support at home which are in the public domain.

The study was commissioned and carried out prior to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and also at a time when the Scottish Government was working with partners to develop a programme to support reform of adult social care support.

The report is published with the hope that the findings and recommendations resonate with and can support the recovery and remobilisation of the sector, and the ongoing reform work that was underway prior to the pandemic, and can support the wider learning around resilience from the pandemic.

Key findings
  • While extreme weather is a consideration in social care support, the research suggests planning for more frequent events caused by climate change is not front of mind for current leaders and managers in the sector.
  • The case study extreme weather events increased staff workload and travel times. Some providers moved to working from priority lists following Met Office weather warnings, continuing care and support categorised as critical or essential. We did not find data on the impact on clients not on the priority lists. It is also worth noting that priority list clients have complex needs that require specialist skills, which those staff who can reach them during travel disruption may not have. This makes staff re-deployment more challenging.
  • The social care support sector – thanks to the extraordinary commitment of staff – flexes at a time of crisis. Delivering social care through the case study extreme weather events was dependent on the goodwill, flexibility and high levels of motivation of the existing workforce. Some of the challenges faced during extreme weather bear aspects of similarity to those emerging as key factors for responding to the pandemic and during the first steps towards recovery.