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The blog below is co-written by New Economics Foundation and Community Catalysts

Public understanding of social care is low. Many people are unsure what it is – never mind how to get it, or who pays – until they or someone close to them comes to need support beyond what friends and family can provide. A lot of care work goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, hidden from view. When it happens in public places, it’s unlikely to have a social care hat on: a dance workshop inclusive of disabled people or an arts club for isolated older people are not ‘social care’ to those involved – they are just a dance workshop and an arts club. 

Because of this, the sheer scale of social care can be a surprising fact. The workforce is made up of 1.5 million people, bigger than the NHS. It is a major sector of the economy and a foundational sector too, essential to millions of people. By supporting them in diverse ways, social care provides the ‘invisible scaffolding’ they need to live the life they want, regardless of age or disability. 

It is, nonetheless, overlooked by economic policy makers. An obsession with GDP does not favour social care: it’s hard to measure productivity in a sector where outcomes, not outputs, are what counts. The purpose and value of the service gets lost, and it’s treated as a cost rather than an investment. More fundamentally, the people who stand to benefit from public investment in social care are not wealthy. The means test restricts access to those on low incomes, while care workers themselves are generally paid close to the minimum wage. Inequalities in power are central to the undervaluing of care.

The oversight by policy makers is huge, not least because there is vast scope for improvement in social care. The system is failing on many fronts. A market approach incentivises providers to compete to win business, scrambling to undercut each other. Chain companies, whose business models are suited to short-termist, cost-driven, competitive tendering, gain market share. Care worker jobs become more precarious and care itself can resemble a ‘factory production line’, with people needing support having little say or control. 

Locally, there are glimmers of hope. A small but growing number of social care commissioners are trying to shift away from the status quo. Other policymakers in local government are developing strategies to build more inclusive local economies. They should join the dots. As a sector rooted in the everyday lives of millions of people, social care has the potential to drive creative new approaches to economic development. The objective of meeting care needs is connected to a lot of other objectives: building local wealth, lifting up job quality, reducing unemployment, improving health and wellbeing, and supporting more connected, resourceful and powerful communities, to name a few. 

Our report, published today, explores the benefits to local economies of one particular approach to care. Community micro-enterprises are small social businesses that provide 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. We find that micro-enterprises can enable personalised care, by devolving decision making to people at the frontline. They also spread an accessible form of entrepreneurship, create roles that offer more autonomy and control than a typical care job, and build resilience, creativity and diversity in social care. In doing so they help to draw people into the sector and encourage them to stay. A third of the micro-entrepreneurs we surveyed doubt they would be working in social care if they hadn’t set up their micro-enterprise. Two thirds expect to continue running their micro-enterprise for five years or longer.

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in supporting the development of ventures like these. They can encourage the spread of micro-enterprises as part of a family of care models that promote inclusive economic development, such as co-operatives, social enterprises and user-led organisations. These models are often locally rooted, they are driven by social purpose, and they generally seek to be accountable to the people they support. Policymakers should not see this as a marginal endeavour: the goal should be a bottom-up rejuvenation of communities and the economies that serve them. This will require long-term public investment, along with willingness to collaborate, experiment and learn. 


Localise West Midlands (LWM)has just become part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).  The blog post below by LWM’s Co-ordinator Karen Leach, explains how significant this is for LWM and describes the role they hope to play in co-ordinating civil society organisations into the inclusive growth agenda. It was originally posted on the LWM website.

We’re really pleased to be part of the WMCA’s new Inclusive Growth Unit.  It’s an opportunity to go beyond a focus on ‘problem people’ to the systemic reasons why we fail to share prosperity and how this can be addressed regionally.

We will be co-ordinating the input of civil society organisations into the inclusive growth agenda as well as having more general input into the Unit from our 20 years experience of exploring beneficial economics in the region. As part of our Barrow Cadbury funded work we’ve already held a workshop in February for organisations who have some level of ‘frontline’ role in economic justice and shared some initial conclusions with our WMCA contacts.

It will be a challenge for the WMCA and its partners, including ourselves, to co-ordinate the plethora of work strands – and overlaps with the social enterprise task force – into something that has the power to impact on the ‘business as usual’ growth-led approach that we have seen in every strategic economic plan since they were invented. But from what we have seen there is a genuine appetite to see change in how we value and deliver economics – so we are confident this is worth engaging with. The appointment of Claire Spencer as inclusive growth lead is definitely worth celebrating, and many of her new colleagues seem to share her willingness to push the boundaries.

We’re told that the Unit will cover not only public service reform agenda but cross-cuts the whole WMCA remit: it would be excellent to end the silo-ing of anything relating to ‘people’ away from the macho realm of ‘growth’.

From a specifically Localising Prosperity perspective, we’re also hoping to ensure that this agenda focuses on not only jobs but diversifying and democratising economic ownership, and building local economies around its assets and local ‘anchor’ institutions – the story of Preston remains an inspiration on this and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies have worked with anchor institutions in Birmingham on a similar approach. Our recent work with New Economics Foundation on the economic potential of social care in the WM economy highlighted how what’s described as the ‘foundational economy’ (the one that provides what human beings actually need, often based in the places where they actually live) provides a useful driver for inclusive economics.

Of course all this must be underpinned by the right set of values and measures: social care co-operatives hit all the right numbers if you value the goods, services, livelihoods, redistribution and economic power that it brings; less so if you are motivated by GVA (Gross Value Added). So this is the starting point for the work we’re planning.

We’re looking forward to an interesting few months.



Frances Legg, Media Officer at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), blogs about its successful media training programme to get more progressive, diverse spokespeople into the mainstream media.


As the General Election approaches, many of us will be turning to TV and radio to make sense of the barrage of statistics and policy pledges thrown at us every day. But it is clear popular opinion is increasingly at odds with the news coverage on much of the mainstream media.


Why is it that we don’t hear more people talking on the television and radio about the dangers of climate change, the drawbacks of privatisation and the misery of inequality?  NEF has previously highlighted an acute lack of media training for people working in social, environmental and economic justice organisations.  This has created a void where voices calling for positive transformation of the economy should be heard.


Public debate desperately needs more spokespeople equipped to communicate with an audience that is tired of the status quo, receptive to new ideas and eager to engage in debate and discussion.  So in October last year NEF launched a new media training programme to help those pushing for a fairer and more sustainable economy to get their message heard in the mainstream media.


As well as mentoring campaigners from a range of sectors in how to frame and deliver their arguments effectively, we monitor the news and liaise with broadcasters to make sure media opportunities for the participants are taken.


Our spokespeople are housing campaigners, macroeconomists, green energy activists, champions of migrant rights and more.  And the chances are you’ve already seen them on your TV screens as we’ve already had a number of high-profile broadcast media appearances, including Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC News, Al Jazeera, LBC, Channel 4 News, BBC World Service and Russia Today.  The bookings speak for themselves, but participants also tell us what a difference our training has made.  Putting yourself out on a public platform can be scary – particularly if you’re a woman, from an ethnic minority or have a disability. The New Economy Spokesperson Network provides a community of peer support for its members. We particularly aim to promote voices that are not heard enough in the UK media: less white, middle class men and more of everyone else.


The New Economy Spokesperson Network accepts applications twice a year. The initial 3 day training course included 2 days of intensive media training with KNP Communications in association with the Franklin Forum, who have run a highly successful US version of this project.


Round two is going to be held at the end of May and we are busily making plans for that, as well as continuing to run our monthly follow-on training sessions in which our sokespeople have heard from top producers, practiced their interview technique in front of a current affairs presenter and started working on messaging guides.


It’s a really exciting project that has the potential to radically alter the framework for debate.


But we need YOU to get involved. Please spread the word amongst your networks and send us your ideas.  Do you know journalists who might be interested in booking members of the network? Or press teams who regularly have to turn down media requests? If so, please get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!


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