With social care in need of transformation and political parties focused on finding solutions, the new report published by the Co-operative Care Forums for England and Wales – Owning our Care – identifies the barriers and opportunities for social care organisations that are owned and controlled by service users, practitioners and the local community.
Through primary research and in-depth analysis of social care organisations that are developing user, practitioner and community ownership, the report highlights the benefits a co-operative approach brings. Central is the ability to put users and practitioners at the centre of everything the organisation does, from the boardroom to the frontline, and to bring people together in a community that gives them agency and enables their wellbeing.
However, the research identifies a number of recommendations needed to enable those interested in user and community-led social care to put their aspirations into practice:
- We need to improve access to quality advice about how co-operative approaches can work in practice and how they can be used as a practical tool for empowering users, practitioners and communities
- Projects to develop user and community-led care need to include investment in grassroots community development
- Policymakers and commissioners need to get better at recognising and responding to the realities of genuine user and community empowerment, including a fuller understating of how best to integrate volunteers alongside empowered practitioners and service users
- Local authorities need to encourage a model of personalisation and individual delivery that is complemented by social connectivity and collective empowerment
- User and community-led organisations need holistic, nurturing relationships with anchor institutions that afford them the time and space to engage with and empower people properly
Mervyn Eastman, Chair of the Co-operative Care Forum, which helped design and raise funding for the research, said:
“This research should be a wake-up call to everyone involved in social care if we are to fundamentally address the present fragmented and failing market. The co-operative way in both approach and models has to evidence why co-operative care is not just unique in market terms, but in showing that it can turn the rhetoric into addressing present relational power imbalances between people using, providing and commissioning care.”
Adrian Roper, the CEO of Cartrefi Cymru, Wales’s largest rural social care provider, which last year converted to a co-op owned by its users, workers and community supporters, said:
“It’s still early days, but the benefits of being a co-op already include better feedback about how we can improve what we do, a significant increase in activities which make our communities better for everyone – at no extra cost to anyone – and a host of new contributions from local suppliers and community members. To date, our commissioners appear to be relaxed about our transformation to a co-op. The challenge will perhaps come when services have to be re-tendered. Will our member’s voices and our added value to the local area count or not? We hope so.”