Social care: Creation not delivery

November 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm 3 comments

By John Craig

When finance is the growth sector of our economy, it’s an opportunity; when care is the growth sector of our economy, it is a threat. These are two sides of the same mistake; we tend to see only the upsides of growth in the private sector and the downsides of growth in the public sector. Sure, the growth in demand for social care poses huge challenges, but we must not miss the opportunities it brings. As a growing source of employment, care has the potential to bring regeneration to our poorest areas. And as those involved in the care economy reach critical mass, the potential for those receiving care to support one another will grow exponentially.

Innovation and novelty are not the same thing. Often the best innovations are simply an existing idea in a new context. So it was with Slivers of Time, an online system that allows individuals to trade as little as an hour of their time to provide services to one another. Originally conceived to help those excluded from full-time work into the labour market, Innovation Exchange has supported Slivers to shift their work into social care. They are now working with six local authorities to create local marketplaces to enable personal budget holders to purchase care when they want it from individuals they trust. At the same time, it is helping new individuals to join the social care workforce, whether they work full-time work or simply support two people that live on their street. And it is enabling consumers of care to also become providers, whether as volunteers or as paid staff. So Slivers of Time is an important innovation because it tackles an existing problem – how to create dynamic local marketplaces for social care – but also because it unlocks new sources of energy from unemployed people and from service users themselves.

This characteristic of unlocking hidden resources has been a common feature of many of the best third sector innovations in social care uncovered by Innovation Exchange. For example, Enabled by Design collects citizens’ knowledge of assistive technology online, creating people-powered products that are better used and better designed. And Speaking Up is building a model of peer-led service brokerage, enabling service users to help one another to make the most of their personal budgets.

These are the reasons why third sector innovation is so vital to the future of social care. Commissioners attending the Festivals of Ideas we have staged around social care acknowledge this, with 86% saying that third sector innovation is ‘very important’ to their work. However, only 4% believe that third sector innovation is ‘very well’ supported. That is why we believe the work of Innovation Exchange is so important. Not only do high-potential projects like Slivers of Time merit special attention, but events to help commissioners of services connect with innovators and social investors can make a real difference. At events from Manchester to Sunderland to Birmingham we have brokered conversations that have made real differences and helped to develop some fantastic projects. For more information about our most recent Festivals of Ideas, click here.

But beyond the particular projects, third sector innovation has the potential to bring a message of hope to social care at a time when it is under greater pressure than in living memory. Robin Murray argues that we should see public services ‘not as a problem of delivery but as a problem of creation’. Third sector innovators help to remind us that, while we are desperately short of cash, resources of too many people’s energy, intelligence and good will remain under-employed.


Entry filed under: Radical Efficiency, Third Sector Innovation. Tags: , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alecpatton  |  November 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    When finance is the growth sector of our economy, it’s an opportunity; when care is the growth sector of our economy, it is a threat.

    I can honestly say I’ve never thought about the ‘aging population’ in this frame before – good point, well made

  • 2. Claire McEneaney  |  November 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    So how do we encourage that viewpoint to change? Who should we be speaking to and what should we be offering them?

  • 3. Sally @ social work jobs  |  January 12, 2010 at 3:14 am

    It’s looked at as being a bad thing because every tax payer knows all that money is coming from them. I don’t think there is a practical way to change the views people have at the moment or in the near future.


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