Australian government funds national scheme to develop social care co-ops

Sector body BCCM will work with communities to co-design projects under the $6.9m programme

Australia’s federal government is turning to the co-op and mutuals sector to help improve the quality and diversity of services provided to older Australians, people living with disability and veterans.

The government has allocated AU$6.9m in the 2022/23 budget to the Co-operative and Mutual Enterprises (CME) Support Program – a national drive to advise communities on how to start new co-operatives in elderly care and other care sectors, and to help existing co-operatives to grow.

Sector body the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) will work with communities to co-design social care projects in areas that were deemed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to be most in need.

These include rural, remote, and regional communities and indigenous services as well as more housing options allowing people to ‘age well’ in community settings.

Melina Morrison, CEO of BCCM, welcomed the government’s decision to fund a three-year rollout of the scheme.

“This package is recognition that the aged care and broader care sector must explore new business models,” she said. “Co-operatives and mutuals are organisations that are owned and run by members, such as consumers, non-profit service providers, employees or people in the local community.

“The Royal Commission demonstrated clearly that the current system is broken and not able to provide the level of care and respect that older Australians deserve. We need new perspectives and innovative solutions that address the shortcomings highlighted by the Royal Commission and ensure people have access to quality services regardless of where they live.”

She added: “Co-operatives and mutuals are ideally suited to the provision of aged care and broader care services because they place those being cared for, as well as those providing the care, at the heart of the solution. In a co-op, people not profits are the beginning, middle and end purpose of the business.

“We believe when older Australians and care workers are empowered through ownership – as members of a co-operative, they find creative solutions that draw on community and family networks in a circle of care. Co-designing solutions with smaller regional and remote communities is also an opportunity to involve other health and care professionals in a place-based circle of integrated care.”

The package also includes resources to explore how digitally enabled co-operative business models can help smaller community owned enterprises to network and grow.

“There are highly effective co-operatives operating in social care sectors, including the NDIS, with potential to increase their impact in areas that struggle to deliver quality services,” said Ms Morrison.

“The Co-operative and Mutuals Support Program will foster a sharing of information and knowledge about the co-operative business model to replicate and grow these successful models in other communities.”

BCCM has assisted several new alternative social care co-operatives and mutuals to launch and grow and has a proven model of co-design and peer mentorship and support.

Steve Anthony, founder and CEO of Supported Independent Living Co-operative, said support from the BCCM had been instrumental in establishing the model of housing and care his own family and other families like his were able to provide young adults living with disability. 

“Our co-op structure allows for a highly integrated and supportive approach to how we are working together as a community to support our children to live their best life,” he said. “It’s empowered us to make the right choices for our family and transformed the quality of care.”

Ms Morrison said the package will help facilitate greater diversity and choice in Australian aged care services, while also creating opportunities for workers in the sector to have their vocation recognised in business models that invest in their skills and training, their conditions and satisfaction.

“There is clear evidence linking employee and consumer ownership to higher levels of workplace engagement and increased productivity. Co-operatives can help non-profit and community-based organisations to come together to develop sustainable and coordinated approaches in growing a skilled workforce,” she added.

BCCM hopes the programme will assist with the establishment of six or seven new co-operative or mutual enterprises in the aged care sector, as well as advising on the growth or up-scaling of a further six existing member-owned enterprises.

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