Current Research

Research project title: The voluntary sector and care for older people: Lessons from Britain and Japan

Principal applicant & grant holder: Dr Mayumi Hayashi (King’s College London)

Funding:                                      Leverhulme Trust

Funding period:                         May 2012 to April 2015

Award:                                          Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

About the research:

Context: All governments face the challenge of global ageing. This is particularly true in Britain and Japan, which must meet increasing demand for social care from growing older populations while recognising serious socio-economic constraints. Both countries’ governments have sought cost-effective and durable mechanisms to deliver high-quality, affordable care. The home care service specifically has been recognised and promoted as being crucial to maintaining the wellbeing and long-term independence of older people.

The most salient recent policy intervention in both countries has attempted to further diversify the mixed economy of service delivery of statutory home care provision, enabling it to attract a broader spectrum of providers, particularly the voluntary sector. However, because this intervention coincided with public spending cuts, its results have been largely disappointing. First, faced with low or decreasing fees for statutory home care, providers struggle to remain viable and develop stable workforces. Secondly, statutory home care provision has lagged behind in Japan, while in Britain it has shrunk: demand therefore remains unmet.

Accordingly, the potential role of the voluntary sector has appeared, albeit on slender evidence, increasingly attractive to politicians, policy-makers and the sector’s own proponents, resonating strongly with recent political rhetoric about the Big Society and its Japanese equivalent.

Aims and objectives: In the context of sometimes exaggerated claims, this project attempts to elucidate the characteristics and potential role of voluntary sector providers targeting the delivery of home care within and/or outside an evolving competitive and under-funded quasi-market of statutory home care. It involves establishing how voluntary sector agencies can position themselves to provide statutory services in competition with private companies. It also explores the current and potential ‘gap-filling’ role of voluntary organisations to meet growing unmet need, noting their strengths and weaknesses.

Methods: The empirical base of the project consists mainly of interviews with key personnel in voluntary organisations, including care workers and volunteers, and with senior local authority officials. Its perspective is therefore organisational, highlighting best practice and identifying the challenges encountered in home care delivery.

Conclusions: The project concludes by evaluating voluntary home care agencies, and offers suggestions for refining the home care market, and reflections on how experiences and best practice from Britain and Japan could be shared to reinforce Big Society policies. Ultimately, the project findings are intended to inform evidence-based practice and policy planning for home care for older people and the role of voluntary organisations in Britain, Japan and elsewhere.

Planned publications:

Peer-reviewed journal article on home care and the Japanese voluntary sector

Peer-reviewed journal article on comparing the British and Japanese experiences of voluntary sector home care

Book on alternative methods of providing care for older people

Presentations and public engagement:

Presentation to the 2nd International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems, The Hague, Netherlands, June 2013

Presentation to the 42nd Annual Conference of the British Society of Gerontology Conference, Oxford, September 2013

žPresentation to Japan Social Policy Association Conference, Tokyo, 2014

Presentation to BSG Conference, 2014

Media appearances: BBC World Service, April and June 2013; Japan television broadcasting, NHK, July 2013

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