Communities care… communities, the foundational economy and social care

By Susie Finlayson, Power to Change, and Sian Lockwood, Community Catalysts

Like many people we’re spending a lot of time in conversations about Building Back Better and the New Normal, or not Normal, depending on the online meeting title.

As organisations that work with community enterprises and community businesses with a role in local economies and health and care, we have found ourselves in a number of different sets of discussions. One set has been looking at the importance of civil society in post-Covid planning and how that influences or impacts resilient local places. Another set has focused on how to build inclusive economies and a third has been grappling with the future of social care. 

But these different conversations about the future of people’s lives in communities do not connect and there is a real danger that decisions will be made about the future of social care without taking into account decisions being made about the future relationship between public bodies and communities and the rebuilding of local economies – and vice versa. At local and national level, these conversations about the future need to connect – to understand and articulate their shared vision and how they can build on, influence and contribute in order to achieve those shared aims. 

This is an attempt to link these three sets of crucial debates: planning for local economies; the role of communities and civil society; and the future of social care.  

Social care isn’t often considered in economic planning 

With the looming recession, unemployment on a scale we don’t yet know and further decimation of traditional high streets, economic planning at a local and national level is crucial. Amongst other strategies we are starting to see greater understanding of the role of communitiessocially trading organisations and community ownership in these discussions, and how these contribute to better and less unequal local economies.  

Social care contributes to local (and national) economies. It is a core pillar of the foundational economy, the services and goods we often take for granted (food, transport, utilities). Currently around 1.5 million people are employed in adult social care in England compared to 1.2 million in the NHS and in 2018/19 councils spent almost £20bn on social care provision. We know demand for social care, and therefore market size in crude economic terms, is going to continue to grow, how that is planned for in economic terms will be crucial.

Many places, for example Preston and Bristol, are already exploring how to spend public money locally so that it benefits the local areas and does so for longer. Currently there are many extractive models of ownership in social care where a proportion of public money leaves the area, leaving less spent on the delivery of the care itself. Care workers in these kinds of organisations are typically paid at the bottom end of the wage range and work in ways that are inflexible for them and the people they support. It would surely make sense for the team responsible for the economic health of their area to work with the adult social care on a plan to ensure that social care money is used in a way that enhances the local economy (as well as providing better options for people needing support).

We are not aware of many areas where these kinds of conversations are happening, although West Midlands Association for Directors of Adult Social Care recently published Flipping Social Care as a follow up to its 2018 publication on the topic, we would love to be in touch with any that are.  


Hub on the Hill, Telford

Hub on the Hill is a community business run by Sutton Hill Community that delivers multiple activities and services across the local community; provides volunteering, training and employment opportunities; hosts community events and much more. Sutton Hill Community Trust is run by local people, enabling it to have rich insight into the needs and strengths of the local community. It recognised that many local people require some form of domiciliary care support, and also that local people work in domiciliary care often travelling far from home and, due to time constraints on appointments, not being able to deliver the types of care they want.

Hub on the Hill has engaged with the CQC Sandbox for innovation in social care through a Power to Change grant and some support from Community Catalysts is registering as a CQC regulated care provider so it can employ local people to support other local people, ensuring good working conditions, ensuring co-production of care and crucially link people receiving care back into other local community activities. Hub on the Hill not only supports people but also contributes directly and indirectly to the local economy.


Communities care – and can do social care  

We all know the huge challenges sections of the social care system have faced during Covid, and the amazing efforts many key workers in the sector have put in to keep people as well, safe and happy as possible. But the dominant narrative around social care remains one of funding and a ‘system in crisis’, focused almost solely on older people, and continuing to view social care as a transactional exchange of a service and individuals as passive recipients of  support. What this narrative doesn’t account for is the multitude of other factors that are important to people’s health and wellbeing and the myriad of ways in which people can receive support if they are connected into a strong and resilient community.  

The SocialCareFutures partnership describes the future we want for social care, as one where we all live in the place we call home with the people and things that we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing the things that matter to us.” 

Adult Social Care teams in local government and national ‘reform’ of social care funding or delivery mechanisms will not by themselves deliver that vision. Resilient and inclusive communities with strong local economies are vital to the health and wellbeing of the people living there. People in communities, with the right kind of support and through structures like community business and enterprise and Shared Lives, can and do provide flexible personalised care and help to people in their area. 

We’ve heard the countless stories of great community and neighbourhood responses amid the Covid-19 crisis which has provided a springboard for the role of community power in recovery and renewal planning. We know communities can and do support each other, and that where the state acts as a supporter and facilitator alongside this activity communities can meet many of their own needs. We also know that community businesses and enterprises contribute to inclusive local economies; that communities need a greater say in and control over decisions about their local places; and that civil society contributes to thriving and resilient places.  

The majority of community organisations and broader civil society don’t see themselves having a role in social caresocial care is often seen as complicated and highly regulated – and some of it is. With the right kind of help though, many community-led organisations (often at the most ‘micro’ level) successfully deliver high-quality personalised help for older and disabled people which is flexible and responsive but most importantly links them into their community. We need more of that but of course the help people need to live their lives (‘social care’) is much more than personal care. Around half of adult social care spend is on working age adults, and much of that goes on help to people to live the lives they want – to work, volunteer, learn and enjoy leisure activities. People of all ages need help at times and we all need to feel connected and valued in order to stay well.

Community-led organisations such as community micro-enterprises and community businesses play a vital role in supporting the health and well being of local people through practical help, access to work and volunteering and  creating connection, providing wrap around support that prevents, or delays, the need for more formal social care interventionsIt makes complete sense for adult social care teams and communities teams to work closely together – and they do in some areas which makes the division between the national conversations about civil society and about social care harder to understand.  

Beyond siloes, towards shared outcomes 

Siloed working at all levels of government and public service only serves to exacerbate this. It’s very rare that local economic planning, environmental impact or community development will interact with a social care team to plan commissioning and procurement.  

We all want to live in the place we call home with the people and things that we love, in good houses and in communities that provide good local jobs, where we look out for one another, and can do the things that matter to us.

Each conversation – about local economies, about strong communities and about social care – is one element of this story. If the elements do not fit together or are incomplete people will not have the good lives we all want. It surely makes sense for all these conversations to connect and collaborate.