Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Trapped: Experiences of unpaid carers of clinically vulnerable people “shielding” during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-28, 15:27 authored by Daniel Burrows, Jen Lyttleton-Smith, Lucy Sheehan, Siôn Jones, Richard Kyle


Unpaid carers were profoundly impacted by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic and public health responses. In the UK, in March 2020, people identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and their household members were advised to “shield” for an initial 12-week period, which meant minimizing all contacts from outside the household and not leaving the house at all, unless in an emergency. In a modified form, shielding guidance remained in place until August 2020 and was reinstituted from December 2020 until April 1, 2021. This article, reporting on qualitative interviews with 47 unpaid carers in Wales, thematically analyzed using a coding framework, explores the experiences of unpaid carers affected by this shielding guidance and their wider implications for social work with unpaid carers in the future.


Participants in our study described ways in which their caring role expanded, due to the need to provide additional practical and emotional support for loved ones who were shielding, and who lost access to other avenues of support. Some also described their caring role as becoming more involved and complex due to the declining health or self-care capacity of the person cared-for as a direct consequence of shielding restrictions. Alongside the increase in their caring responsibilities, carers reported losing access to important avenues of support for their own well-being.


We draw on ecological systems theory to highlight the importance during care planning and management of exploring the carer's mesosystem to identify and optimize sustaining forces, and of attending to the microsystem involving the carer and person cared-for.





  • VoR (Version of Record)


Burrows, D., Lyttleton-Smith, J., Sheehan, L., Jones, S., & Kyle, R. (2023) 'Trapped: Experiences of unpaid carers of clinically vulnerable people “shielding” during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic', Journal of Social Work.

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy

Cardiff Met Authors

Jen Lyttleton-Smith

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  • © The Authors


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