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Economic Justice

Small is beautiful – how social care micro-enterprises can be part of inclusive local economies

A new report from NEF (New Economics Foundation) and Community Catalysts concludes that social care is undervalued. The report ‘Community micro-enterprise as a driver of local economic development in social care’ finds that many of the problems affecting services — including ‘factory production line’ care, poverty wages and poor working conditions, and the extraction of wealth by private-equity backed chain companies — can be traced back to a lack of recognition and appreciation of what has, until recently, been described by some as ‘low skilled work’.

Yet according to the report “care is, fundamentally, a major economic sector” and will continue to be, “employing 1.5 million workers in England alone, with a mission to help people to lead the life they want, regardless of age or disability. As such, it has enormous potential to be a driver of inclusive economic development, both locally and nationally”.

This report explores the benefits to local economies of one particular approach to care. Championed by social enterprise Community Catalysts, community micro-enterprises are small social businesses that provide care and support in diverse ways. In places like Somerset, where they have been promoted by the local authority, they have proliferated with numbers jumping from around 50 to more than 450 over five years. A 2017 evaluation showed that the 223 micro-enterprises then up and running were delivering £938,607 in annual savings, while doing a better job of achieving outcomes than traditional home care.

The report found that micro-enterprises are:

  • spreading a form of entrepreneurship that is accessible to and benefits a wide range of people, above all, older women looking for rewarding, flexible work
  • creating roles that offer more autonomy and control than a typical care job (61% of the micro-entrepreneurs we surveyed feel less stressed and anxious since setting up their micro-enterprise)
  • supporting recruitment and, above all, retention in social care (35% of the micro-entrepreneurs we surveyed would be unlikely to be working in social care if they had not set up a micro-enterprise)
  • enabling more personalised care, by devolving decision making to people needing, and those providing, support
  • building social connectedness, by helping people to participate in their communities and to develop and maintain relationships with others
  • growing resilience, creativity and diversity in the social care sector, and in local economies more widely