Social co-ops: a mutual response to the care crisis

Social co-ops: a mutual response to the care crisis
Co-operatives UK, by Pat Conaty
January 2015


Faced with continued fiscal constraint, local authorities need to innovate to ensure care needs are met. At present far too many public service markets are dominated by large scale private sector providers. There is growing concern that in many cases this approach is not delivering long term value for users and the tax payer, and is not socially and economically sustainable. This is especially the case when it comes to social care where there are massive knock on failure costs for the state, and for the NHS in particular. There are four main reasons for this:


* A lack of accountability in outsourced services
* Not enough profit in providing decent care – trapping buninesses in a race to the bottom
* A national presumption in favour of scale and standardisation resulting in services failing to meet local and human needs
* The benefits of a co-operative approach


We support the growing calls for a new locally focused approach to outsourced social care. But this is not in itself enough. For social care to be integrated, effective and affordable, we need to lever in local contributions and build social capital. Mutuality, in the form of models such as the multi-stakeholder social co-op, has a number of benefits:


* Allows people to pool financial and non-financial resources
* Provides a framework for reciprocity through which people can support one another
* Makes services accountable to the people who use them
* Harnesses the ideas and enjoys the support of people most involved in a service (users and staff)
* By placing mutuals at the heart of public service reform government enables people to help each other as well as themselves.


What is a social care co-op?


In implementing a mutual approach to local delivery we believe the UK needs to learn lessons from countries with diverse co-op models of social care, including Italy, Canada, and Japan. Research into these international examples yields four novel and common characteristics:


* Multi-stakeholder co-ops involving care service co-producers including workers, volunteers and service user members
* Co-design work and co-development methods to build social solidarity between members including paid and unpaid workers and service users and families
* Local authority partnerships with procurement in four main operational areas: social services, health services, education and the workforce integration of excluded people
* Human scale built into the model by defining a clear locality to serve and maximum size growth levels