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Co-operatives are the way to more efficient and compassionate social care

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Our future care system cannot be driven by price, competition and profits. Here’s how government can encourage communities to take control

While Conservative proposals for overhauling adult social care funding damaged their election campaign and did not feature in the Queen’s speech, they were right not to duck the issue.

Politicians of all parties must come together, not only to plug the hole in social care funding, but also to think hard about how the system spends that money. No overhaul of funding will be sufficient unless there is a simultaneous shift in our approach to providing care and prioritising wellbeing.

Our future care system cannot be organised around price, competition and profits. We’ve done that for 20 years and it hasn’t worked.

This means care has to be about people, relationships and communities. Regardless of the amount of money we have to spend, we need to organise activities and resources in ways that bring people together and give them meaningful control.

That’s why Co-operatives UK is asking all parties to support user- and community-owned social care.

Every day, more organisations and communities are exploring co-operative approaches. Our analysis finds a whole host of co-ops working in the care sector, from employee-owned organisations like Leading Lives and Casa to consortia of micro-providers like Choices4Doncaster.

But we’re a long way from seeing the scale of transition that will be required to create a truly sustainable system.

Here are some practical steps the government could take to help:

We need a bold government willing to working across party lines to champion new and innovative approaches

Make sure the EU procurement regulations (pdf) allowing the reservation of certain public service contracts for mutuals are retained after Brexit, so that co-ops and social enterprises continue to receive three years of delivery guaranteed when they win a local authority contract. Government should then use our new freedom to manoeuvre outside the EU to develop a better procurement framework, one that allows and encourages commissioners to develop real partnerships with community and user-owned mutuals.

Change the market

Learn from the groundbreaking Social Services and Wellbeing Act in Wales and use it to amend the English Care Act so that it specifically requires local authorities to promote the development of community and user-owned services.

Community development

We need more resources so communities have the tools and support to organise. We know – from organisations like the World Health Organisation and Public Health England – that healthy communities play a vital role in preventative health and social care. They can actually save money, so nurturing social capital is a sensible investment.

Innovation funds

Direct more of the money currently spent on innovation in public services towards initiatives that give users and communities genuine ownership and control, so social care providers can be held accountable by users and workers – because they are owned by them.

Spin-outs

Encourage more public service mutuals to adopt multi-stakeholder ownership, with users and communities as members alongside staff. The government is expected to continue promoting spin-outs , but co-operative approaches offer a way for organisations to provide the kind of responsive and accountable service people want.

These steps require a bold government willing to work across party lines to champion new and innovative approaches to social care. Given the system’s current failings and the scale of the challenges, it’s time to reimagine care.

https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2017/jun/23/co-operatives-social-care

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