The social care sector, catering for the most vulnerable people in society, has been hit hard by austerity measures.
Social care costs account for one third to one half of local government core budgets and the squeeze on funding has meant that low pay has become endemic to the model of state care, as it has been among private sector contractors. In the home care sector, eight out of ten workers are on zero-hour contracts.
The demand for social care, though, is increasing, leading to an interest in hybrid models of mutual care, self payment and state support. Drawing on the work of around seventy mutual pioneers in the social care field, we launched yesterday in Cardiff a new strategy for the sector, which explores the potential for a radical new model of social care, drawing on innovation from Italy.
The ‘social cooperative‘ model turns the users of social care into partners, alongside the workforce, with both given an ownership stake in the business and a share in its success. It is an approach of services delivered ‘with and for’ care users and carers.
There is now a social co-operative in every town in Italy, with a labour force of 360,000 – greater than the total number employed by private sector residential care providers across the UK.
In Wales, a network of champions has been formed to spread the social co-operative model, following a national report earlier in the year on the importance and potential for co-operative and mutual enterprise for the Wales economy. In that report, the Co-operatives and Mutuals Commission said: ‘the Commission considers that there is a compelling case for a greater role for social care co-operatives because of the added value they can bring to social care services, including: High-quality services that are based on co-operative values and principles and not on private profit; Services that are responsive to people’s needs, as they are citizen directed, giving a much stronger voice and greater control to service users and carers; Greater contestability in a market dominated by large, private providers.’
Disability Wales, for example, is developing a model for a co-operative of direct payment users, challenging the idea that services have to be managed either by the individual consumer or by the municipal state.
The social co-operative model should not be seen as a rival to wider social enterprise, voluntary sector or public social care agencies. Rather it offers a way to upgrade what they do, by building the idea of partnership, or co-production, into the governance of the organisation.
The strategy launched by Co-operatives UK in association with the Wales Co-operative Centre, and written by Pat Conaty, marks I hope a clear statement of intent to develop a new market of quality care – a market which is with and for vulnerable people.