There has been much attention over recent times from the UK media about the “care crisis”, the aging of the population and the plight of millions of older adults living lonely and isolated lives, trapped in hospital beds or on trolleys in Casualty corridors awaiting social care packages.

Such narratives have prompted interest in advocating different and innovative responses and indeed the Co-operative sector appear to have woken up to how it has the potential to address these challenges. The Co-operative Party specifically, alongside others in the movement, generally believes that a new model of care is needed founded on the Values and Principles of Co-operation that can “deliver consistently high quality of care.” (Taking Care: a co-operative vision for social care in England: James Scott.2016 p5)

23-03-2017 16-07-03

No history of social care co-operatives exists in the UK and today only a handful can truly evidence the application of all the Values and Principles and arguably Co-operative solutions remain a secret at worst, and perhaps a holy grail at best. False Co-operatives exist which have a rather pick-and-mix approach to governance and member control, and therefore reinforce the under-nourishing of Principle 7.

Social Care exists within a provider market which is fractured, weighted to the private for profit sector or Charity sectors, wedded to the prism of viewing its users in the context of dependency, deficit, sickness and benevolence. This leads to patronism and paternalism being the hallmark of most social care.

Some co-operators, I for one, consider that multi stakeholder approaches which engage with users, families, staff and the local communities as equal co owners and beneficiaries have the potential to revolutionise social care. The challenge for the Co-operative sector is to rid itself of outdated service constructs led and controlled by providers but view care on the basis of human need, namely, a life with meaning, relationships, belonging and self worth. The experience of those living with boredom, loneliness, isolation, mental incapacity, chronic illness in a co-operative service (or business) could at the end of the day mean nothing more than a .Coop logo on the front door or email address.

We urge choice over control, health and social care integration over mutual ownership and, when required to “think outside the box”, we simply build a bigger one.

Clearly over the next few years we can – and should – promote co-operative responses, but if we continue to view “users”, especially older adults, their informal and formal cares and the communities they live and work and believe in our false co-operative hype ignoring for example, the inherent ageism that exits in society and indeed within the Co-operatives, nothing changes.

“Talking Care” is an excellent and well-argued report of a vision, but the challenge for us is to firstly challenge how we think about social care. The so-called care crisis is seen primarily in terms of supply and demand, costs, and workforce deficit, but the crisis arguably will not be resolved by a Co-operative of whatever type but by agreeing a narrative and a messaging that shifts relational power to its users, carers, staff and community members. We must view social care in terms of community development, not community benevolence, and construct a Co-operative service architecture that provides for each and every stakeholder meaning, relationships, belonging and self worth. We call it Fair Care.

Mervyn Eastman, Co Founder and Co-director, Change AGEnts Co-operative