This POSTnote introduces robotic technology and the main ways it has been developed for use in social care. It reviews evidence on the impact of robotics on the costs and quality of social care and its workforce, and explores the main ethical, social and regulatory challenges to its use in social care.Jump to full report >>
Robotics has been suggested as a way to help improve the quality of social care in the UK and to manage increasing pressures on services. New technology to support social care is expected to be a theme in the upcoming Green Paper on adult social care in England, and its potential has also been highlighted by the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and in Northern Ireland.
Social care is part of a complex system of public and private services and encompasses both paid and unpaid care. The demand for, and cost of, social care is expected to rise as the population ages and needs become more complex. Social care also faces challenges from reduced funding and in recruiting and retaining staff.
Robotics is a broad field covering different aspects of the creation and use of robots. Robots can operate with varying levels of autonomy and may make use of artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning technologies. Many of the robots and robotic devices developed for social care appear to still be at the conceptual or design phase, and currently, there are technical limitations to the tasks that they can undertake. However, this may change with the increasing investment that is being made in robotics and several trials are already being undertaken in the social care sector. According to the National Audit Office, between 2012 and 2020, the UK Government has, or plans to, invest over £300 million in RAS research. The European Commission is also investing €700 million between 2014-2020 in partnership with the robotics industry and academia, which is expected to yield a total investment of €2.8 billion.
It has been suggested that robotics can provide social and cognitive assistance to care receivers, as well as physical assistance to both caregivers and care receivers. Evidence on the effectiveness of this technology shows some positive findings, although the newness of the technology means that current research is limited. Questions have also been raised over the ethical, social and regulatory challenges to its use.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
Authors: Robert Wilson; Caroline Kenny
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.