A project that allows disabled people to jointly manage their direct payments instead of relying on local authority services has been launched by the Welsh Government.
The citizen-led co-operatives project will give disabled people who are eligible for a community care package the option to receive money and join a co-operative, where they can work with others to design services that better meet their care needs.
The co-operatives will be an alternative to the existing direct payments support scheme in Wales, which is a more individualised option for people with disabilities.
The project will be led by charity Disability Wales and development agency, the Wales Co-operative Centre, but each co-operative will be owned and run by people with disabilities.
All members will have a say on how the group is run and what support it offers, which could include pooling their direct payments to commission new services.
The members will also be able to choose and hire personal assistants, but the admin responsibility of being an employer can be managed by the group, instead of the individual as it would be under the existing direct payments support scheme.
A peer support service will also be available to help members learn how to work with their personal assistants and make the most of being a member of the co-operative.
Mark Drakeford, minister for health and social services in Wales, said the model would give people a “real opportunity” to make decisions about how they want to lead their lives.
“It is through such collaboration and delivering practical leadership and action that we will achieve our vision of a greater voice and control for citizens and their right to live independently in the community,” he said.
The development of co-operative models is a key aspect of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014, which takes full effect in April 2016.
The Act places a duty on local authorities to promote the development of co-operatives, as well as that of social enterprises, user-led services and the third sector.
This is a different approach to the Care Act 2014, which takes force in England in April. The legislation obliges local authorities to promote a diverse market of social care provision and makes personal budgets mandatory for anyone whose needs are being met by the council.
Speaking to Community Care earlier this year, Drakeford said that a “perfectly respectable” argument could be made for both approaches, but market models [the private sector] were “inevitably associated” with greater inequality.
The co-operatives project will receive funding from the Big Lottery’s BIG Innovation Fund until March 2018 and aims to provide over 4,000 disabled people in Wales with a new way to manage their money. At least one co-operative model will be set up over the three years, which can be replicated by others in future.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “This is an exciting time for us and we welcome the national and international support that this project has received.
“The co-operatives will reignite the debate surrounding direct payments and will support and enable greater choice, voice and control for disabled people across Wales.”
Gio Isingrini, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS Cymru) in Wales, added: “This important initiative advances the range of choices available to citizens and it puts control directly into the hands of the customer. We look forward to working with Disability Wales and the Wales Co-operative Centre to maximise the direct benefit of this project throughout the country.”