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Adult social care involves supporting adults living with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and physical and mental health conditions so that they can lead a fulfilling life. It can include care given at home (domiciliary or home care), at day centres, through reablement services, or in care and nursing homes (residential care), as well as provision of advice, information, aids, home adaptations and support for carers. It includes formal care services that are paid for by the individual or funded by their Local Authority (LA) as well as unpaid care given by family or friends. 

Detail on the provision of adult social care in England is available in Commons Library briefings on Adult social care funding and Informal (unpaid) carers. Adult social care is devolved and policy and services vary across the four nations.

In England, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has identified innovation as key to improving adult social care. In the 2021 People at the Heart of Care: adult social care reform white paper DHSC defines innovation as practices adopted by providers of adult social care, people who draw on care and support, LAs and government, to implement new models to solve a problem. This includes technological innovation, as well as innovation in policy, service delivery and commissioning. Unpaid (family and friends) carers are also key in developing and adopting innovation.

Key points

  • Innovations in adult social care can deliver improved quality of life, less need for health or social care support and greater carer satisfaction.
  • Many innovations exist in adult social care, but there is often little robust evidence about their effectiveness and successful ideas may not be widely adopted.
  • Enhanced staff retention, better training and less risk averse leadership may increase levels of innovation.
  • Building data and digital capacity, such as improving internet connections and digital skills, would facilitate innovation.
  • Collaboration between organisations, financial stability and regulator support can boost innovation.
  • Extensive innovation has been achieved during the pandemic but infrastructure, pay, funding and data are key to sustaining this.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:   

Members of the POST Board*  

Akudo Amadiegwu, University of Essex 

Prof. James Barlow, Imperial College London 

Prof. Andrew Bateman, University of Essex 

Prof. Yvonne Birks, University of York 

Prof. Annette Boaz, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 

David Brown, Nesta 

Dr Diane Burns, University of Sheffield* 

Dr Paul Clarkson, University of Manchester 

Chris Day, Care Quality Commission* 

Department of Health and Social Care* 

Dee Fraser, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) 

Prof. Paul Freddolino, Michigan State University* 

Prof. Ann Gallagher, University of Exeter 

Luke Geoghegan, British Association of Social Workers 

Prof. Jon Glasby, University of Birmingham* 

Prof. Martin Green OBE, Care England* 

Prof. Trish Greenhalgh, Oxford University* 

Dr Cate Goodlad, University of Sheffield* 

Prof. Claire Goodman, University of Hertfordshire 

Dr Kate Hamblin, University of Sheffield* 

Dez Holmes, Research in Practice 

Emily Holzhausen OBE, Carers UK 

Ewan King, Social Care Institute for Excellence 

Prof. Martin Knapp, London School of Economics 

Shakir Laher, NHS Digital* 

Iain MacBeath, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services* 

Dr Juliette Malley, London School of Economics* 

Prof. Jill Manthorpe, King’s College London* 

Mr Tim Parkin, Think Local, Act Personal* 

Prof. Dame Louise Robinson, Newcastle University 

Prof. Harry Scarbrough, City, University of London 

Isobel Scott-Barrett, Nesta 

Lisa Smith, Research in Practice 

Madeleine Starr MBE, Carers UK 

Dr Chartini Stavropoulou, City, University of London 

Dr Obert Tawodzera, University of Birmingham 

Jim Thomas, Skills for Care* 

Dr Ann-Marie Towers, University of Kent 

Dr Holly Walton, University College London 

Melanie Weatherly MBE, Care Association Alliance

Dr Matthew Wells, University of Essex 

Dr John Woolham, King’s College London* 

Katharine Wright, Nuffield Council on Bioethics* 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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