Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Improving health, wellbeing and social care

ESRC supports the creation of new insights from research and data collections into health and care services as well as research into the wider factors affecting physical and mental health including income, housing, social deprivation, and behaviours.

Partners involved:

The scope and what we're doing

We support the creation of new insights from research and data collections into health and care services that inform and shape the development and delivery of equitable and efficient services across the UK.

Our funding also helps improve the evidence on the wider factors affecting physical and mental health including income, housing, social deprivation, and behaviours.

We fund work throughout the UK and also overseas, sharing data and knowledge around the globe.

Below are a few examples of our work.

Sharing insights into ageing and social care

Bringing together health and social care to meet the needs of our ageing population is one of the greatest challenges facing the UK. There are significant variations in people’s experiences of ageing, and our investment aims to help make ageing more inclusive. People sit at the heart of our funded investments.

Delivering effective social care is crucial to enabling the population to live well throughout their lives. ESRC has invested in research and data collections that investigate sustainability and wellbeing in care holistically across systems, as well as what enables promising innovations in social care service delivery and how they can be scaled up.

Our funding enables researchers to gather and analyse data about social care throughout the UK, including:

In response to the growing evidence around the complexities of delivering adult social care, we and the Health Foundation have invested in a flagship initiative Improving Adult Care Together (IMPACT) to help share evidence and develop best practice in the sector.

Dementia is one of the key drivers behind the need to strengthen social care. People sit at the heart of the investments we fund, including how people access dementia services and how companies can create products and services to help our ageing society.

We also encourage entrepreneurial approaches to solving challenges related to ageing. The Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards help researchers to develop commercial and social ventures to support older people. They are for high-risk, high-reward ideas that aren’t normally funded through standard streams.

Using social sciences alongside medicine and biology

Our funding informs the development of treatments and services by exploring the wider factors that affect health, including income, housing, and social deprivation, as well as people’s behaviours.

An important part of much of our research and data collections focuses on partnering with patients and other people who use the health system to improve the quality of the care they receive, drawing on individuals’ experiences to improve services for everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the role that social sciences can play alongside biological and medical studies. From assessing the impact of restrictions on the economy and individuals’ mental health to mapping the public’s attitudes to the measures used to tackle the pandemic, our investments are helping the government assess and improve policies. Behavioural research, such as that carried out by our Network for Integrated Behavioural Science, has proven to be valuable in the pandemic response, and builds on a strong history of ESRC support for this area.

Finding solutions to improve mental health

Diagnosing and treating mental illness is as important as handling physical ailments. Our researchers provide evidence on which interventions work and how factors such as gender, age, ethnicity or class impact on mental health.

Our Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London is helping to promote and sustain good mental health in communities. We also support the UK’s eight mental health networks, which tackle a variety of mental health areas ranging from youth mental health to violence and abuse, loneliness and social isolation. And we fund large, nationwide data collections that support analyses of mental health such as the Millennium Cohort Study and Understanding Society.

Sharing our mental health research with the public, academics, politicians, and other partners is a key part of our work. We appointed Louise Arseneault, Professor of Developmental Psychology at King’s College London as our Mental Health Leadership Fellow to help share our findings and stimulate public and policy debate, including through our Let’s Talk Mental Health videos.

Public health and behaviour

Prevention-related research informs the development of programmes and policies that help to keep people healthy. Our researchers examine ways to improve population health and reduce health inequalities by focusing on important areas such as supporting health and activities in schools and enhancing wellbeing and social cohesion.

Our funding alongside the other research councils in UKRI focuses on some of the other major threats faced by the UK, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – the ability of microbes to become resistant to antimicrobial drugs. Tackling AMR must include understanding how to influence attitudes and behaviours towards antibiotics. Our jointly funded AMIS (Fresh Approaches to the Study of Antimicrobials in Society) centre, with AHRC and the Department of Health, is looking at ways society uses antimicrobial drugs to offer policy-makers, scientists, and funders new ways to conceptualise and act upon AMR.

Working with partners on a global scale

As well as working throughout the UK, ESRC’s health and wellbeing focus extends internationally. We work with partners on initiatives including healthy ageing in China, mental health in Colombia, and projects through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Our work also looks at the causes of ill health and solutions to help developing countries, including through our work on poverty alleviation. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the connections between countries, and how events on one side of the planet can affect lives on the other, highlighting the need for cooperation and international research such as ours.

Why we're doing it

Health and social care are two of the most visible ways in which we as a society look after each other. They sit at the heart of many projects funded by ESRC.

Carrying out research and creating high-quality data collections into health and social care enables the public and policymakers to make informed decisions and shape more effective policies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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