Press release

User and community-owned care poorly understood, new research finds

The growing desire for user and community-led approaches to social care is being held back by a lack of understanding of how to make them work, says a report described as a ‘wake-up call’, published today.

As reported in the Independent and Community Care, With social care in need of transformation and political parties focused on finding solutions, the new report published by the Co-operative Care Forums for England and Wales – Owning our Care – identifies the barriers and opportunities for social care organisations that are owned and controlled by service users, practitioners and the local community.

“This research should be a wake-up call to everyone involved in social care if we are to fundamentally address the present fragmented and failing market." Mervyn Eastman

Through primary research and in-depth analysis of social care organisations that are developing user, practitioner and community ownership, the report highlights the benefits a co-operative approach brings. Central is the ability to put users and practitioners at the centre of everything the organisation does, from the boardroom to the frontline, and to bring people together in a community that gives them agency and enables their wellbeing.

However, the research identifies a number of recommendations needed to enable those interested in user and community-led social care to put their aspirations into practice:

  • We need to improve access to quality advice about how co-operative approaches can work in practice and how they can be used as a practical tool for empowering users, practitioners and communities
  • Projects to develop user and community-led care need to include investment in grassroots community development
  • Policymakers and commissioners need to get better at recognising and responding to the realities of genuine user and community empowerment, including a fuller understating of how best to integrate volunteers alongside empowered practitioners  and service users 
  • Local authorities need to encourage a model of personalisation and individual delivery that is complemented by social connectivity and collective empowerment
  • User and community-led organisations need holistic, nurturing relationships with anchor institutions that afford them the time and space to engage with and empower people properly

Mervyn Eastman, Chair of the Co-operative Care Forum, which helped design and raise funding for the research, said:

“This research should be a wake-up call to everyone involved in social care if we are to fundamentally address the present fragmented and failing market. The co-operative way in both approach and models has to evidence why co-operative care is not just unique in market terms, but in showing that it can turn the rhetoric into addressing present relational power imbalances between people using, providing and commissioning care.”

Read the Owning our Care report here


Case study: Cartrefi Cymru

Cartrefi Cymru used to be a very good but fairly typical, top-down, charitable provider of social care in rural Wales. But they saw that co-operative ownership, which gives the people that rely on the organisation a say in how it is run, were important for the provision of sustainable, high quality support and over the last year have converted to a co-op.

With a turnover of £21 million and 1,250 employees Cartrefi Cymru Co-operative - the largest rural social care provider in Wales - is now a co-operative owned by the stakeholders that are involved with the organisation – its users, employees, and family supporters. They have the opportunity to become voting members who can stand for the board and have a democratic voice in decisions.

The co-operative structure, which was developed with support from the Wales Co-operative Centre, offers a way to hard-wire user involvement and accountability into the organisation’s governance, meaning that can reassure it’s users that it is committed to the highest standards of social care and employment practice, and has effective channels in place to listen to their needs.

Recognising the role that reciprocity and well-being play in sustaining effective social care, Cartrefi Cymru has also put a new focus on bringing users, families and employee together to strengthen their communities by using local member forums to make decisions democratically and as equals.

“It’s still early days, but the benefits of being a co-op already include better feedback about how we can improve what we do, a significant increase in activities which make our communities better for everyone - at no extra cost to anyone - and a host of new contributions from local suppliers and community members. To date, our commissioners appear to be relaxed about our transformation to a co-op. The challenge will perhaps come when services have to be re-tendered. Will our member’s voices and our added value to the local area count or not? We hope so.”  Adrian Roper, CEO of Cartrefi Cymru


Case study: CareShare

CareShare, a fledgling co-operative, offers an innovative approach to social care that aims to match workers and carers. Rather than the people being supported feeling out of control, the co-op will allow them and their families to choose who cares for them. And instead of care workers having no say over their work, they will be able to choose the kind of work they do, who they support and whether or not they want to be self-employed or opt for the security of formal employment.

Most importantly, CareShare puts peer support at the heart of its work – people who receive care can also offer support themselves and be fairly rewarded for the skills and experience they share with others.

The approach is based around an online platform that will allow care workers, care users and their families to work together and achieve high quality, decently paid care.

“I want to stop our public funds for social care flowing into the hands of shareholders and investors that are a far remove from the front-line. I want the most important people – the givers and users of care – to be in charge and to reap the benefits from this. This doesn’t only mean the money stays with them, it means people become much healthier and happier too.” Emma Adelaide Back, founder of CareShare


Read the Owning our Care report here 


The report was commissioned the Co-operative Care Forum, with support from East of England Co-operative Society, Wales Co-operative Centre and Co-operatives UK. Research was undertaken by the Co-operative College and Change Agents.