Social care co-operatives can be the solution against government austerity measures

As the effects of austerity increase, there is an opportunity to develop a new market of quality care for vulnerable citizens under the co-operative model, says a new report. The...

As the effects of austerity increase, there is an opportunity to develop a new market of quality care for vulnerable citizens under the co-operative model, says a new report.

The report, Social Co-operatives, a Democratic Co-production Agenda for Care Services in the UK, examines best practice in co-operative health and social care services and draws lessons from countries where co-operative models of delivery are widespread and are developing dynamic forms of community membership and ownership. Drawn up by Co-operatives UK, the Wales Co-operative Centre and Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales, it also looks at how austerity cuts have led to councils cutting carers’ pay.

Drawing on the work of around 70 co-operative and mutual pioneers in the social care field, the document explores the potential for a radical model of social care.

The strategy identifies a market opportunity for the co-operative movement to collaborate with other stakeholders in the public, voluntary and social enterprise sector to develop multi-stakeholder models for social care. It makes 12 key recommendations, including a call for increased awareness of the potential for co-operative and multi-stakeholder models and associated legal models.

The report also asks for fiscal incentives to be developed at governmental level to assist the social care co-operative sector to develop and expand. The strategy identifies the need to utilise digital technology and consortia approaches to secure ‘economies of co-operation’ and the need for social finance mechanisms to mobilise capital development.

Its writer Pat Conaty, a research associate at Co-operatives UK, said: “The report spells out in considerable detail a positive, practical and democratic agenda for collaborative action to develop social co-operatives for care and health services as well as other sectors, including employment for ex-offenders.

“Legal changes may not be necessary as existing worker co-operative, community benefit society and multi-stakeholder legal models in the UK for social co-operative should enable strategic implementation to be advanced. Some bespoke multi-stakeholder co-operative models have also been developed in recent years.

“The current policy interest in co-production could become just a passing “fad” without the membership and ownership structures needed to embed and empower citizens. Social co-operatives are a proven model to learn from and, if adopted, can ensure that current best practice in social innovation in the UK can develop strong roots and empower communities over the long term.”

The publication of the report comes at an important time for co-operative development in Wales. In February, the Wales Co-operative and Mutuals Commission published its over-arching report on the co-operative sector in Wales. The commission recommended extending the specialist support for growth and development of co-operatives in specific sectors with growth potential, including social care.

Glenn Bowen, director of enterprise at the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “As more and more local authorities are forced to review how they deliver their services, this strategy demonstrates that there is a place for multi-stakeholder models which engage and empower both their employees and their clients.

“This is a sector in which increased ownership from within the body of people who receive the care can drive forward standards and improve engagement. A real sense of ownership of care can empower its recipients and help them to improve the quality of their own lives.”

Read the full report online and Six reasons why social co-operatives work.

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