CECOP report highlights the advantages of the co-op model in the care sector

The report focuses on how co-ops address challenges in the care sector and provide better quality jobs, and showcases best practices

A new report by the European confederation of industrial and service co-operatives (CECOP) explores how co-ops help to meet the high demand for care.

Released ahead of the European Care Strategy, due this autumn, CECOP’s report focuses on how co-ops address challenges in the care sector and showcases best practices.

According to the EU Social Protection Committee (SPC), long-term care will be necessary for 38.1 million Europeans in 2050, up from 30.8 million in 2019. The report highlights some of the challenges affecting the sector, such as care workers being poorly paid – or not paid at all, precarious employment conditions, and physically and emotionally challenging work. Co-operatives can address these issues, it argues, by offering quality services to care recipients and quality working conditions to their workers.

The sector is particularly well developed in Italy, where more than 14,000 co-ops provide care services to five million people, employing 400,000 workers. Similarly, in Spain 1,000 co-ops provide care services to 67,000 people, directly employing 3,000 workers. And in Sweden, around 10% of childcare is provided by co-ops. While some of these are managed by parents, others are worker or multistakeholder co-ops.

The report highlights the distinction between co-op ownership – exclusively by workers or alongside other stakeholders such as care recipients, public authorities or other partners – and private enterprise.

And it refers to a 2019 Eurofound study on employment conditions in co-ops and social enterprises, which found that co-ops prefer to offer full-time, permanent jobs – the ‘standard employment’ model which is often used as an indicator of good-quality job. Co-op workers in the Eurofound study rated job quality as high, in absolute terms and in comparison to similar organisations; gave high ratings to the social environment, voice and representation in the workplace, work-life balance and task discretion; and reported plenty of opportunities for skills development, high levels of job security, and “significant intent to provide workers with career opportunities within organisations”.

As enterprises governed on the principle of one member, one vote, co-ops can also educate their worker-members on internal governance issues. The CECOP report says this allows members “to fully take control of their own employment, and promote a collaboration culture.”

Maintaining a work-life balance is another challenge for care providers and here, too, co-ops can make a difference. The report explains that “many co-operatives make an effort to improve the living conditions of their members by providing additional services which relieve the pressure on the workers.”

Based on these findings, the CECOP report makes several recommendations, including: giving co-operatives the legal, political, and financial support they need; treating care as an essential service to the community where quality is prioritised rather than using the cheapest price criteria in public procurement; improving accessibility of state aid to cooperatives providing care services; supporting co-operatives as key actors providing care in a formal environment, transforming informal and self-organised care; and supporting digitalisation and innovation in the care sector.

The full report, which was funded by the European Union, is available on CECOP’s website.