The Centre for Analysis of Social Policy (CASP) has held its inaugural policy lab, the first of a series of events to be held in and around the University of Bath. Policy Labs aim to look at and solve social policy issues in a new way. Different to focus groups or other forms of discussions, policy labs communicate with a group of people with interests in a particular issue over an extended period of time. They also use previous research on particular issues to inform discussion.

Funded by the UKRI Quality Research Strategic Priorities Fund, and supported by Bath’s Research and Innovation Service, Research Grant Development (Industrial Strategy), Public Engagement Unit, and Humanities & Social Sciences Associate Dean (Research) Professor Julie Barnett, the CASP Policy Lab includes service providers (health and local council), and service users and their carers as important participants to ensure solutions to issues are based on real-life experiences. Presenting previous research in an accessible way to inform policy lab discussions is central to the CASP model – as is holding decision-makers to account on policy lab outcomes.

Unfortunately, covid-19 has postponed further ‘in-person’ policy lab events, with Professor Forrester-Jones stating "we need to acknowledge a digital-divide when engaging with the public. Not everyone has access to on-line discussions, including some service users with disabilities or older carers, who are at risk of exclusion from these forums". However, the Policy Lab team has been able to start to develop a framework on how best to run future policy labs.

Healthy Ageing, the first policy lab topic attracted a wide range of ideas from key statutory agencies in Local Government, the NHS and service users. Many key issues regarding the lived experiences of people in the region were discussed including the inappropriate medicalisation of those in old age. A focus on older age ‘health issues’ has led to more demands on hospital care for medical issues that could be dealt with more locally or within the community if the appropriate health and social care was available. Local ‘cottage’ style services that could provide such integrated care would enable preventative measures to delay dependencies. Covid-19 was predicted to increase stress on a system already under stress regarding care for older people. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a reality.

Also discussed was social isolation and exclusion. New housing projects, often remote from towns and close family members means that key social support is often lost. This is particularly stark for those who rely on non-digital communication (especially those over 80 years old) leading to social isolation that is not only psychological but also physical (e.g. the loss of personal touch/intimacy from a partner or other family members). Social housing that includes inter-generational aspects should be designed and linked with affordable, accessible public transport (lessons learnt from the Netherlands).

For further information, you can read the Policy Labs Project Executive Summary. Keep an eye out for more information that will become available as we hold further Policy Lab events.

Other on-going work around ageing at the University includes the following: