Care: Sustainability and wellbeing

A conceptual and analytical framework for policy and practice in care and caring

About the work package

Led by Professor Allister McGregor.

This team’s work frames and informs all our research on Sustainable Care. Led by Professor of Political Economy Allister McGregor, with key team members Dr Kate Hamblin, Professor Norah Keating, Madeleine Starr MBE, Professor Luke Clements and Professor Sue Yeandle, it works closely with the eight teams delivering the programme’s research on Care systems and on Care work and relationships, and with the programme’s UK and international academic and policy partners.

Everyone in the Sustainable Care team is contributing to the programme’s development of theoretical and conceptual issues relating to the sustainability of care. This team’s work is crucial for programme integration. It promotes the team’s mutual learning and ensures consistent connections between theory and practice through engagement with all programme stakeholders.

The team runs theory-building activities for the entire Sustainable Care programme team, works closely with our network of PhD students and other early career researchers, and engages with leading international scholars in our field.

It aims to initiate and support new evidence-based thinking, writing and debate, and to work with our programme teams and partners to develop innovative methods and design meaningful and relevant indicators and analyses.


The concept of wellbeing has been included in policy literature in the four nations of the UK since the early 2000s, with a specific focus on social care from around 2011 (although there was reference to wellbeing as early as 1968 in the Seebohm report which recommended the creation of local authority social services departments to “enable the greatest possible number of individuals to act reciprocally, giving and receiving service for the well-being of the whole community” [p180]).

Two main waves of political interest in wellbeing have been identified. The first, in the 1960s, highlighted that Gross Domestic Product (GDP)/ Gross National Product (GNP) were imperfect means of measuring how well a society is functioning. It sparked an interest in developing other social indicators, stalled in the 1970s (as nations entered recession) and re-emerged in the 1990s as interest in wellbeing, including in developing countries, revived.

In the UK, Prime Minister David’s Cameron’s 2010 speech on wellbeing and the need for more precise measurement of the concept is seen as a key point in establishing wellbeing as a policy priority. A so-called ‘watershed’ speech, it called for measures of wellbeing to assist in assessing Britain’s progress in more than merely economic terms.

Cameron challenged three notions. First, he refuted the idea that wellbeing is a distraction from the ‘urgent economic tasks at hand’, citing Robert Kennedy. Second, he contested the notion that improving wellbeing is ‘beyond the realm of government’, citing Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. Third, he questioned the idea that wellbeing is a woolly, poorly defined concept and thus hard to measure.

In response, the UK’s Office for National Statistics created a national programme to develop measures of wellbeing and an ensuing national debate on ‘what matters to you’ led to the development of a national wellbeing measurement framework with objective (eg, employment, life expectancy) and subjective (eg, life satisfaction, anxiety, meaningfulness) measures.

This review summarises main policy developments on wellbeing in the field of adult social care since 2000 in the four nations of the UK.

Team members

Professor Allister Mcgregor
Lead for Care: Sustainability and Wellbeing

View Professor Allister Mcgregor's profile

Dr Kate Hamblin
Senior Researcher

Profile on the Circle website

Professor Sue Yeandle
Principal Investigator

Profile on the Circle website

Professor Norah Keating
Director of Capacity Building

View Professor Norah Keating's profile

Madeleine Starr MBE
Director of Impact

View Madeleine Starr MBE's profile

Professor Luke Clements

View Professor Luke Clements' profile