The future of care is in our hands

The health and social care system is changing. The Government is committed to an ongoing process of modernising and reforming the way services are provided. 

The health and social care system is changing. The Government is committed to an ongoing process of modernising and reforming the way services are provided. 

It wants care tailored to the needs of people rather than those of the service provider, and proactive services to promote health and well being, not simply reactive ones dealing with the consequences of ill-health.

Can the NHS and local authorities deliver this alone? With investment likely to slow down in the future, and an ageing and increasingly obese population, the Government wants to new providers to stimulate innovation and drive up efficiency. 

Those of us committed to the provision of social and health care free at the point of service are keen the private sector should not be the only “diversity” in the market place the Government seeks to foster.

Against this background, there has been growing interest in the potential for co-operatives and social enterprises, and the wider third sector to play an important role in delivering the care. 

Championed by politicians of all parties and growing in confidence as a movement across the UK, this seems to offer a new way forward.

This is a huge challenge for the whole of the third sector. There is a political challenge within the Labour movement, in particular, with colleagues in the public sector trade unions. 

We need to say surely it is better for your members’ jobs to be secured through the democratic control that a co-op or social enterprise can offer than to suffer the vagaries of private enterprise. 

Those of us who are enthusiasts for social business models must guard against being used by commissioners and the Government as the smoke screen of diversity to disguise wholesale contracting with the private sector. 

The Department of Health has been making progress and significant developments including the establishment of a Social Enterprise Unit with a remit to ‘stimulate a vibrant social enterprise sector in health and social care’.

It has also established a programme of support for 26 ‘pathfinder’ social enterprises whose learning and experience can then be shared across the sector and a fund for social enterprise of £73m over four years. 

Alongside this, work is being done to improve the commissioning of care services from social enterprises and the wider third sector.

As co-operators we need to be supporting and championing this work, politically through the Co-operative Party and its national and local representatives; Co-operatives UK has to make this a priority; and crucially retail societies need to be providing more business support than ever. 

There is an even a stronger case for closer collaboration between the Social Enterprise Coalition, Co-operative UK and others than ever before.

Glenys Thornton is a Labour/Co-op peer and chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition.

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