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The national association of disabled people's organisations

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Citizen Directed Co-operative Blog

Disability Wales are often asked why are we establishing a Citizen Directed Co-operative and what this really means for people.

This blog will explore the rationale behind setting up a Citizen Directed Co-operative and also provide an introduction to what we mean by direct payment and a Citizen Directed Co-operative.

Direct payment is money from social services to enable direct payment recipients to buy their own services rather than relying on social services to provide services.

Often those who require a direct payment are the experts of their needs and know what support they require. Direct payments allow people to go ahead with securing the provision they want rather than take more limited services from their local authority that may not meet their needs.

Recipients of direct payments may prefer their care package to accommodate their gender, sexuality, cultural and religious identities and not just their support requirements. This requires more flexibility and creativity than social services can offer.

The Social Services and Wellbeing Act stresses the importance of looking at all aspects of a recipient’s life, not just meeting their basic care or support needs. This means finding ways of supporting people to do activities outside of the home, to socialise, work and access leisure opportunities.

Now imagine people who have direct payments get together, have choice and control over what kind of services they want, thus creating an agency with a difference to provide those services.

This is what a citizen directed co-operative would look like.

A co-operative is a business that is owned by its members and there are many different ways for structuring a co-operative. Disability Wales, in partnership with the Wales Co-operative Centre is piloting a Citizen Directed Cooperative. This means that direct payment recipients are the ones running the cooperative and choosing and buying the services it provides. The lessons learned from this project will help to create a new model of cooperative that will provide another option for people to choose from, alongside workers or multi stakeholders co-operatives and many more.

During our bid for the National Lottery funding, there were no Citizen Directed Co-operatives in the UK. Due to our long history of being a disabled people led organisation we realised that this work is central to our organisation’s core values. We could transfer this ethos to the co-operative. Our idea is not new within a European context, Norway and Sweden have 100% member led co-operatives and we wanted to bring this idea back to the UK and give people same ideology and opportunity.

The timing of this co-operative is ideal for aligning with the aspirations of the Social Services and Well-Being Act which stresses the importance of asking service users what they want, looking at their life holistically and providing what is important to them.

The Act is encouraging social care to move away from a ‘prescriptive’ culture where certain services are offered which service users have to fit into, towards ensuring that the services offered fit in with the needs of the users.

This is where citizen directed co-operatives comes in. It is a really good way of responding to the needs of service users collectively. For example, one local authority noticed that they have numbers of people over 50 years old and they all have classified themselves as catholic. Social services can meet their support needs but are very unlikely to meet their needs as catholic service users.

Local authorities could bring these individuals together and explore the option to set up a citizen directed co-operative, where they can integrate their catholic faith into their everyday support requirements. They could also recruit PAs that are Catholics themselves or those who are experienced in understanding the value of faith in people’s lives.

There are numerous other creative ways in which cooperatives can be used to provide services that support people to live their lives in a way that prioritises the things most important to them.

By setting up a co-operative like this, social services can also downgrade the risk of isolation and loneliness. Simply put, one direct payment may be able to achieve many assessment objectives, more efficiently through a cooperative.

Setting up a cooperative that is 100% user led enables those using direct payments to have full choice and control over the decisions taken about the services they wish to provide and buy. It is an innovative approach to a long standing issue of how best to empower disabled people to have control over how their needs are met. This is an important component of independent living and demonstrates the social model in practice.

Keep checking back for ongoing updates on the progress of the Citizen Directed Cooperatives Cymru project.

For more information on how you may think about creating a cooperative of your own please contact Jeff Brattan-Wilson on jeffbrattan-wilson@disabilitywales.org or 02920 887325