What does the British public think when they hear the words ‘social care’?

By Tamsyn Hyatt, Communications Strategist at the FrameWorks Institute.

We can tell a new story about social care. One that shapes the public conversation, builds understanding, and drives policy change. We’ve seen this happen – across a range of social issues – over and over again.

We can do this by making choices.

Choices about how we present information. What we emphasise, how we explain an issue and why we say it matters. And these choices can lead to radically different outcomes in thinking and behaviour.

These choices are known as framing.

And to frame effectively, we need to know what the public think and feel about social care. And not just what – we also need to recognise how and why this thinking happens.

Earlier this year, we took a snapshot of what the British public thinks when they hear the words ‘social care.’ Here’s what we found.

We don’t know what social care is, exactly.

The people we spoke to named a range of different services: fostering, care for old or young people, and providing benefits or childcare.

…but we know it’s for the vulnerable.

For people who “can’t cope on their own.”

We know social care is “poorly” and “in a mess.”

Neil Crowther has written about the dominance of crisis framing in social care. Our snapshot suggests that the public has absorbed this idea.

…but we don’t know how to fix it.

Solutions are often harder to see and think about than problems. And this appears to be the case with social care. Very few of the people we spoke to were confident that improvements could happen.

Sometimes the ways of communicating an issue that feel right leave the wrong impression.

When we talk about crisis – without proportionate solutions – we risk reinforcing public fatalism. The idea that our social problems are so great as to be insurmountable.

This echoes our latest work on poverty, where the belief that collective action can drive change is vital to increasing public support for policy solutions.

When we talk about vulnerability – without context – we risk presenting anyone who requires support as objects of pity. Without agency of their own. Or as problems, to be solved.

This mirrors much of our work on reframing ageing in the United States. Default thinking around older people drew on ideas of frailty. And concern that an ageing population meant that society faced a ‘Silver Tsunami’ of drains on social resources.

When we talk about fairness we risk moving the discussion towards what an individual deserves. And the idea that some – the deserving – are more worthy of support than others. 

Our work on immigration highlights the dangers of triggering this kind of zero-sum thinking – where supporting one community necessarily means taking supports away from another.

We can tell a different story.

One that isn’t grounded in crisis, or pity, or paternalism.

One that moves away from the idea of a broken system for broken people, to a recognition of the humanity in all people. And of the moral ties that bind us to each other, to our communities, and to our world.

Exactly how to do this is an empirical question. One that together – with the right research – we can answer.



The research by the Frameworks Institute was supported by the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group and involved on the street interviews with members of the public, exploring their ‘default thinking’ about social care.  GDPR prevents us from sharing the film clips of the interviews online, but we can share them at events and in one to one meetings, on request.


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