Equal Care Co-op – a new co-operative owned by care workers and the people they support
Wednesday, 21 November 2018
Imagine if Uber was owned by its drivers. Imagine if taskers got to make decisions about how TaskRabbit was run. This is exactly what Equal Care proposes to bring to social care with its exciting and radical new business model.
Equal Care Co-op is the UK's first social care platform co-operative. The team are setting out to change the traditional homecare industry, refocusing the power, choice, and control onto the most important people involved: the people receiving the care and the people providing it – be they paid or unpaid, a family member or a professional carer.
This is a real gig economy alternative that pays equal attention to the rights of workers and the rights of those they support.
The gig economy has received a great deal of publicity in recent years – not all of it good. The formula has – inevitably – extended to the world of care work and there are now some established platforms offering a vetted labour pool and easy process for booking care workers of your choice.
However, the existing gig-economy platforms are vulnerable to the same criticisms levelled at nearly all companies operating such a business model. The worst-offending companies tell care workers that they have to offer a flat rate, that any bad review will knock them straight off the platform (one strike and you're out) and that too many rejections of work opportunities will also push them off the platform.
On the other hand, some of the better platforms have gone on to become care providers in their right. Others remain as introductory agencies, avoiding the regulatory requirements involved in care provision, maintaining their status as technology services companies rather than providers of care.
All of these platforms are privately owned, and all of them retain a value-extraction based business model which charges a commission on every hour of care given. In most cases, these companies are angling for an exit from the market and a windfall for the founders and early-stage investors.
Equal Care Co-op has a different focus. By changing the balance of power that currently exists in services, some magical things can happen: people choose who supports them, workers get paid a decent wage, the huge levels of turnover in care services can stop. And people being supported get a chance to help others too.
Big ideals do not map well onto big profits, so Equal Care Co-op's start-up route is a grant-dependent, CrowdFunder-led one. It will be making use of Community Shares – a recent investment vehicle only open to co-operative and community benefit societies. However, the equity-loaded finance that drives most ventures of this type is closed to them.
Founder Emma Back said, "We're looking at strawberry patch principles, sociocracy based growth models and federated structures. There are many possibilities for growth that don't entail becoming enormous and monolithic, but where you can still be large enough to offer a real alternative to the private companies taking UK care contracts."
Equal Care Co-op recently participated in the world's first platform co-operative accelerator, designed by Co-operatives UK and funded by the Co-operative Bank.
Ed Mayo, Secretary-General of Co-operatives UK, observed,"In Equal Care we have a viable, alternative and pioneering model for social care as well as platform co-ops, and we're incredibly excited to see what the future holds. Co-operatives UK has been delighted to support Equal Care in its development – through UnFound, an accelerator for platform co-op, and through The Hive, our support programme for co-operatives in partnership with The Co-operative Bank"
Fran Watson, Founder Member of Equal Care and an independent care worker herself, says, "The biggest issue for me was having the reassurance of getting enough work and having the right amount. It's finding the work that takes the time and effort. I know of no independent care workers who do 15-minute slots. You just can't do it. The options are either to go with an agency or go it alone."
Equal Care has now launched the invitation-only, first iteration of their platform. They are a co-operative that prioritises power, money and decision-making truly sitting on the front line, thus offering potential for community-led scale.
Equal Care aren't rolling in venture capital, they are bootstrapping with the best of them, but they need help. They have just released their Christmas CrowdFunder and are looking for support to help get the vision flying. Please visit their CrowdFunding page and help change social care.
HebWeb News: New Care Co-op starting up in Hebden Bridge (Aug 2017)