Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

#walescoopreport Opportunities for Co-operative Social Care

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Ceri-Anne Fidler of the Wales Co-operative Centre examines the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission’s case for an increased role for social care co-operatives in care service delivery.

The Wales Co-operative Centre supports the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission’s finding that there is a compelling case for a greater role for social care co-operatives because of the added value they can bring. In our experience, co-operatives offer high quality social care services that are value-based. They provide responsive services that are citizen directed giving a stronger voice and greater control to service users and carers. Finally, they are anchored in their communities and investment by the public sector in co-operatives stays in the community and is recycled for wider economic and social benefits. You can read more about this in our response to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill consultation.

Established co-operatives working in the sector demonstrate the real benefits and added value of a co-operative approach to social care. For example, the Foster Care Co-operative cares for 160 children from 55 local authorities, including in Wales. They reinvest profit to provide more foster care support and training. They provide a high level of support to foster carers in the belief that this aids the longevity and stability of placements, including support group meetings every six weeks.

We also share the Commission’s view that the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill could be a further catalyst for growth. The Bill places a duty on local authorities to promote social enterprises, co-operatives, user-led services and the third sector in the provision of care and support services. The Wales Co-operative Centre has been working on a joint project with Social Firms Wales focusing on this duty to promote. The project team has written a report with advice for Welsh Government about what actions are necessary to ensure that the Bill’s requirements are translated into action on the ground. The report is based on research interviews with local authorities, co-operatives, social enterprises, funders, regulators and service users and their representative organisations. We also held a series of seminars and study visits to social enterprises to raise awareness and deepen the understanding amongst local authority staff.

Our findings revealed overwhelming support for the duty to promote, with many stakeholders believing that it will empower service users and place them at the centre of service design and delivery. Yet, our research has also shown concern over potential barriers to implementing the duty. We heard concerns that there needed to be cultural shift and a need to inform local government representatives on the co-operative approach and the benefits it may bring. This mirrors the Commission’s conclusion that there needs to be a significant shift in culture and strong leadership for the potential of the Bill to be realised. The project group will continue to work with local authorities to raise their awareness of the co-operative approach. In the second stage of the project, we plan to work with pilot projects and will provide more intensive support to pilot local authorities.

The Bill also outlines the framework within which local authorities may be allowed or required to make direct payments to a person towards the cost of meeting needs for care and support. We believe that this also has the potential for a step-change that would empower service users. This is demonstrated by our research into co-operation and co-operatives in the development of direct payment schemes in Wales. By forming co-operatives and pooling their direct payments, service users can exert greater choice and purchaser power. Our report provides powerful case-studies that demonstrate the advantages of this approach for service users.

Overall, we believe that co-operatives and co-operative approaches can be central to changes that place service users at the centre of service delivery and design. We agree with the Commission that the Social Services and Well-being Bill offers a unique opportunity for Wales.

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