In case you missed it, Adrian was featured in the Western Mail outlining how and why social care co-ops are such a positive model for care and wellbeing.
First printed on 23rd October 2017:
‘Co-operation is key for care’
Co-operatives have a core set of principles which put its members at the heart of decision making. Here, Adrian Roper, chairman of Social Co-operation Forum, explains how they are being used to transform social care for the better.
Social care is often in the news for depressing reasons. We hear stories of remote professionals failing to notice that things are going badly wrong for someone in need. We hear of criminal neglect in care homes run by business interests that view care staff as just a cost to be minimised and put private profit above human dignity. And we hear how the number of people needing social care is rising whilst the amount of money for it is being squeezed or cut.
So it makes a change to report that something positive and new is happening in social care, and that Wales is at the forefront of its development. That new thing is the application of co-operative values and principles to the organisation and delivery of care and support. People with shared needs and interests are coming together to form their own co-operatives, and existing care agencies are transforming themselves along co-operative lines.
What is a co-operative? Put simply, it’s a group of people working together in ways that help all the members. Co-ops have been around since at least 1844 when a group of families in Rochdale decided they’d had enough of buying poor quality food at prices they could barely afford. So they set up their own shop. Their success led ultimately to a global network of ethical businesses with over a billion members. The Rochdale pioneers adopted values of self-help, mutual assistance, equality and democracy, and these are still at the heart of co-ops across the world. So are a set of principles that put members at the heart of every co-op: as co-owners, as contributors, as decision-makers, as holders-to-account of managers, and as carers about the communities they live in.
It is the ethical, member-centred nature of co-ops that make them such an attractive model for organising social care. Some social care co-ops only have workers as members. This doesn’t mean they are not committed to empowering the people they support. There are great examples of worker co-ops putting that commitment into practice. But a co-op in which the people receiving support are full voting members clearly offers something extra. Some co-ops are accordingly organised as user co-ops. Some are “multi-stakeholder” co-ops, allowing both the givers (workers) and receivers (people/citizens) of care and support to be full voting members. This creates the opportunity for a balance of important views, and offers worker-members the respect and recognition they are often denied in social care. The 2014 Social Services and Well-being Act for Wales explicitly encourages the givers and receivers of social care to work together as equals, and to co-produce service outcomes. The multi-stake-holder co-op is a great model for this collaborative approach.
Why is the ethical, member-centred aspect of co-ops so important in the context of social care? Above all, it is because it reduces the risk of harm to vulnerable people. If you are the co-owning member of a care organisation that exists for and through its members, you are less likely to be forgotten or marginalised by remote decision-makers, and you are more likely to be surrounded by other members who are looking out for you, and who have the status and organisational encouragement to speak up. If you are the co-owning member of your own care co-op, you can be absolutely assured that no-one is cutting back on the quality of your care in order to make themselves or anyone else richer.
And co-op values are also important because they consistently encourage co-ops to do more and be more than just self-centred businesses. The focus on doing right for their members leads naturally towards doing right for the communities in which their members live. Co-ops are certainly not about solving social care’s financial challenge by coming in cheaper than other providers. But they do offer the prospect of every pound of social care funding being spent to best effect. Care co-op members don’t just receive care and support. They contribute. They support each other. They value and build relationships. They build better communities for everyone.
This isn’t just a theoretical dream. Some of Wales’ biggest support providers have adopted the multi-stakeholder co-op model, and there are a growing number of people across Wales coming together locally to create their own care co-ops.
If you would like to find out more, please contact the Care to Co-operate team at the Wales Co-operative Centre at http://www.care.wales.coop. Thanks to financial support from Welsh Government, the team can offer information, start-up tool-kits, hands-on assistance and a friendly co-operative ear.