How co-operative approaches can flourish

Featured article - 26 July 2018
By James Wright, Policy Officer, Co-operatives UK (The organisation works to promote, develop and unite member-owned businesses)

Head-shot of the author, James Wright, Policy Officer, Co-operatives UK (The organisation works to promote, develop and unite member-owned businesses)

We need to transform social care into a way that nurtures and mobilises social capital, and empowers citizens and practitioners genuine agency and control. We expect government will hear this from a lot of quarters in the major policy reviews scheduled for the autumn. If this transformation is going to happen, we need greater clarity on the practical tools that will make it work. This is where co-ops come in.

A co-op is both an organisational tool and modus operandi for people to pool energies and resources and empower themselves through collective agency, ownership and control. There are 7,000 co-ops in the UK but currently less than 50 in the wellbeing economy. Some are homecare agencies owned by frontline workers, others are user-led organisations, or are owned by both workers and service users, while a few are local collaborations of small providers with shared vison and values. Though small in number, these co-ops demonstrate much of what we aspire towards for a transformed care system: empowered citizens and practitioners; people over profit; hardwired co-production; human scale combined with economic viability

The predominate organisational model in the independent care sector, based on service consumption, price competition and shareholder value, will struggle to nurture or mobilise social capital and cannot afford citizens and practitioners genuine agency and control. And while government is making a lot of technology’s potential to disrupt care markets for the benefit of service users and workers, without deliberate design digitised, care businesses will simply establish personalisation as the rationalised consumption of commodified services. With co-operative approaches on the other hand, digital platforms could help to facilitate a social solidarity model of personalisation. But however good, no app can generate that kind of solidarity on its own. This can only come from high-impact grassroots community development and organising.

We need national policy to create the conditions within which co-operative approaches can flourish, including action on market shaping and regulation, innovation funding and new investment in community development. Co-operatives UK is working with experts to fine tune these arguments and recommendations ahead of the autumn.

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