Citizen directed care co-operative aims to empower disabled people

Disability Wales and the Wales Co-operative Centre have created a citizen-directed care co-operative that will give disabled people greater control over the community care they receive. Launched last month at the...

Disability Wales and the Wales Co-operative Centre have created a citizen-directed care co-operative that will give disabled people greater control over the community care they receive.

Launched last month at the Pierhead in Cardiff, the co-operative will enable people eligible for community care to pool their resources for better services. By joining the Citizen Directed Co-operatives Cymru (CDCC), service users can get involved in the running of the enterprise and decide what services it will provide. Through the co-operative they will also be able to speak with a single voice when working with local authorities and others in order to improve services.

Speaking at the launch of the co-operative, Adolf Ratzka, founder of the Stockholm Cooperative for Independent Living (STIL), shared his experience about how co-operatives can help provide personal assistance for disabled people. Mr Ratzka is also director of the Independent Living Institute, a policy development centre working to empower disabled people. He argued that supply-driven services could not provide disabled people the same choices and control over their daily lives as other people take for granted.

“Life is more than survival. I need assistants who help me do all that I would have done by myself if I weren’t disabled: do my share of the family household, go to work, hang out with friends, travel, fix the house, do gardening. For all of this I need assistance from people who are good at what they are doing, people who like to work for me. I have to do the recruiting, I need to train and supervise them. I need to be the boss because I know best what I want to do with my life,” he said.

STIL started in 1983 as a pilot project that aimed to demonstrate the superiority of demand-driven solutions over supply-driven ones. Only assistance users can become members and only assistance users can join the board.

In the UK people assessed by social services as eligible for community care can receive support through their local authority or choose to receive direct payments instead, which enables them to purchase their own assistance or services. This offers them more choice, flexibility and independence. However, individuals are less likely to choose the direct payment method, mainly due to the responsibility involved and issues such as administrative work, employment law and perceived risk. A co-operative approach could also make direct payments more approachable. The model enables service users to share responsibility and risk, support each other and share experiences.

Mr Ratzka added: “The purpose of STIL, apart from helping its members to Personal Assistance budgets, was to maximise individual members’ control over their personal assistance at a minimum of administrative work. STIL lets its members concentrate on the tasks that are most crucial for the quality of the services: recruitment, training, and supervising their assistants. STIL trains and supports members in these functions to help each achieve optimum service quality.”

CDCC is the first co-operative of this kind in the UK. The project is funded through the Big Lottery until March 2018.

Disability Wales chief executive Rhian Davies said: “This is an exciting time for Disability Wales and we welcome the national and international support that this project has received. We are thrilled that the Big Lottery has funded this project. Citizen Directed Co-operatives Cymru will reignite the debate surrounding direct payments and will support and enable greater choice, voice and control for disabled people across Wales.”

Derek Walker, chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “Disability Wales and the Wales Co-operative Centre believe co-operatives can empower people to own and manage their own services. This pioneering co-operative approach will enable disabled people in Wales to live more independent lives. This new approach will not just be citizen directed, but citizen owned and citizen controlled as well.”

Trevor Palmer, board member of CDCC, thinks the co-op will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people across Wales. “As a direct payment recipient, it is such positive news to hear that the CDCC project is being delivered in Wales,” he said. “This project will create real opportunities for disabled people to live a more independent life”.

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