Our view: Caring for the community through collaboration

Co-operatives abide by the principle to care for the community, but how are they actually doing at caring in the community?

Social care is one of the biggest needs of society. We have an aging population. Over the next four years the number of people aged over 65 is set to increase by over one million (12%), according to government figures.

The Local Government Association says “services are at breaking point” since there is a funding gap of at least £2.6bn to help care for the elderly and disabled.

It also expected the government to act in the autumn budget, but it says the chancellor’s “failure” means social care remains in crisis, leading to the “prospect of more care providers leaving the publicly-funded market or ceasing trading”.

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the regulator for care services, echoes this point. In its State of Care report, it says providers should be working together for sustainable change. Whether this is preventing/stopping risk or pooling resources – the CQC says higher quality care can be achieved through co-operation.

It also hints that new care models can transform local services – plus it has pledged its support for alternative systems.

Related: Social care is approaching a tipping point. Can co-operation help?

So, what are these new models, potentially? If care providers are failing – whether this is a care home or a community care service – then a transfer to the workers is one option. Or even a hybrid model involving stakeholders such as clients, their families and even local councils – all of those can have a financial stake in the business.

An alternative is to look at what’s happening in Scotland with consortium co-ops. Providers can still retain their current business model – whether that be social enterprise, charity or even privately-owned – but they will form a formal network to collaborate on specific issues.

It requires support from regulators and local authorities, but a consortium co-op is a fair and equal business model that can help organisations reduce costs, share risks and create new platforms for growth.

Co-ops are no stranger to health care. West Midlands Co-operative, which merged to form Midcounties Co-op, owned a number of care homes. Back in 2004 (and ahead of its time), Co-operatives UK created a project to help care home providers to convert to co-operatives.

Today, there are examples of GP practices working in a co-operative model already, look at Seldoc that provides out of hours care in London. There is also Bridgnorth Homecare Co-operative, which answers care needs in a rural area and provides a fair and transparent pricing structure.

Globally, the top 10 health and social care co-ops have a collective turnover of $36bn, according to the World Co-operative Monitor.

In Europe alone, there are at least 123 providers. We have looked at a number of care providers across the continent and how they’re doing things differently. And what they do shows that co-operatives naturally go the extra mile, especially when looking at the CQC’s ‘fundamental standards’ for care delivery.

Related: Can care co-ops defuse the demographic timebomb?

Co-ops can provide better person-centred care, especially when clients and family are part of the co-op. Through collaboration, care can be delivered more safely and there may be more chance to catch abuse. The provision of food and the maintenance of premises/equipment can be pooled to save costs. Governance will also be more effective with all stakeholders involved or even when working as a collaborative with other services.

It’s clear there is a looming crisis in social care – and it seems the time is right for the sector to embrace the co-operative way of working.