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Equal Care Co-op: An innovative approach to social care

Case study

6th December 2023
People sat around a table at the Equal Care Co-op AGM

With a common set of values and principles at their heart, co-operatives are created to serve their members’ needs and aspirations. Discover the Yorkshire co-op doing just that... 

When loved ones need support from a care system struggling through chronic under-investment, people are often left feeling powerless. That lack of control extends beyond those needing care and their families to care workers, operating on low wages and shackled by inflexible and impersonal rota systems. 

Equal Care Co-op, in West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, is breaking the mould by giving control both to the people who need care, and also those giving it. It is unique, it is innovative, and it works. 

Henry Drumm, a 26-year-old care worker at Equal Care Co-op, emphasised the core principle of the organisation. He said: “The relationship between people is most important at Equal Care. It’s people-centred care; a relationship-centred service that’s much more holistic. It’s more meaningful.” 

Equal Care Co-op proudly claims the title of the UK’s first platform-based social care and support co-operative. Their online platform, which is collaboratively developed with and owned by their members, empowers the people receiving support to build and manage their own team. That team can consist of family members, paid care workers, volunteers, neighbours and friends. Roles are spread across the team, from creating and administering rotas to providing different levels of physical and remote care and support.

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This focus on empowerment, collaboration and relationships means that the co-operative works to ensure a mutual match between those receiving care and those providing it. All involved need to be happy, which helps create meaningful, resilient and consistent care-giving relationships. The contrast with government-funded care could not be more stark. 

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It is difficult to imagine a sector where a human-centric approach is more important than in social care. With Equal Care Co-op people feel listened to; they feel empowered and in control of their care.
– Henry Drumm, care worker, Equal Care Co-op

For carers it can be demanding, with increased responsibility along with a more diverse role. Equal Care Co-op is a Real Living Wage employer, while self-employed workers can charge a higher hourly rate to cover the costs of self-employment. But the rewards go beyond financial incentives, which include being paid for travel time. 

Henry said: “People are individuals, so every individual care package is bespoke. As a care worker, because I’m also in contact with friends and relatives, you’re more closely connected. “If you’re more involved, you’re more responsive. It is more fulfilling and a more genuine way of delivering care."

Equal Care Co-op is owned by its members, who can be supporters, workers, investors or advocates. It offers all kinds of support, ranging from personal care to mental health and wellbeing support. 

Emma Back, co-founder of Equal Care, said: “Equal Care started because there is a problem with power in social care. It sits with the people who are not at the heart of what the entire system is built around and for – and that is the people getting support and people giving support."

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Fundamentally, at the heart of social care there is a relationship that has been ignored, exploited and venture capitalised. We set out to rebalance the power dynamic in favour of the people who are getting and people who are giving support. It’s about relationships.
– Emma Back, co-founder of Equal Care Co-op

Michele Rashman turned to Equal Care Co-op after being disillusioned with the level of council-funded support provided to her mum, who suffers from dementia. Serious concerns included a lack of continuity of care, which caused levels of distress, and limited care provision due to time constraints on her mum’s care workers. 

Michele said: “With Equal Care we have this team of three or four people and I know who is coming and what time they’re coming. And I know loads about them. I like the continuity of care and a system where the care workers aren’t being exploited.”

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