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The brave new world of cooperative care, dream or reality?

Blog post 26 June 2017

I’m definitely not in the Simon Cowell wealth league, but I’d like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to the economics of business. Running the West Midlands Care Association, like all businesses, involves the social science of economics that essentially deals with supply, demands, profits and losses.

Overhauling the financial mechanics of the care sector is a daunting proposal, so when I read that ‘co-operatives are the way to more efficient and compassionate social care’ I was intrigued.

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, the article in The Guardian says (I’m sure I’ve recently blogged something along these lines).

“No overhaul of funding will be sufficient unless there is a simultaneous shift in our approach to providing care and prioritising wellbeing,” the report’s author, Ed Mayo, adds.

But then I get a little lost with Mayo’s vision for a care industry where the financial essentials of economics are replaced with a kind of corporate ownership. “Our future care system cannot be organised around price, competition and profits. We’ve done that for 20 years and it hasn’t worked,” Mayo proposes.

Mayo is secretary general of Co-operatives UK, the national business association for co-operative and mutual enterprises.

He is co-author of the book Consumer Kids, and is involved in a range of organisations and enterprises that promote a fairer and more sustainable economy. “Our future care system cannot be organised around price, competition and profits. We’ve done that for 20 years and it hasn’t worked,” he writes, adding: “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.”

The sentiments are honourable, but the call for a cooperative approach to the care industry for me appears to be a big ask.

And it would be a very bold government that would adopt what are referred to as “practical steps” towards such a future.

These include:

·      Eencouraging commissioners todevelop a better procurement framework, one that allows and encourages commissioners to propagate real partnerships with community and user-owned mutuals.

·      Learning 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.

·      The need for more resources so communities have the tools and support to organise.

·      Setting up of inn ovation funds that give users and communities genuine ownership and control, so social care providers can be held accountable by users and workers – because they are More public service mutuals to adopt multi-stakeholder ownership, with users and communities as members alongside staff.

Mayo declares it’s time to reimagine care. I have a fertile imagination which would even dare to believe in securing fair rates of pay for members’ care services. But even I can’t visualise this particular brave new world.

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