Care Together Program
Care Together: A co-operative and mutual enterprises support program
The Care Together Program is Australia’s first co-operative and mutual enterprise support program in social care. The Program is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health and Aged Care and will be delivered by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), the national cross-sector body for co-operatives and mutuals.
The Care Together Program is an education, advisory and support program that will assist selected projects to develop sustainable service delivery in areas where current approaches are not working, including a focus on regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.
What will the Care Together Program do?
The Care Together Program will demonstrate innovative solutions for improving the appropriateness and sustainability of social care services in areas where other models are not working. Cross-sector multi-disciplinary models will be an important focus of the Care Together Program and aligned to these high-level program outcomes:
- Supporting the establishment of innovative models of social care delivery (including aged care, disability care, veterans’ care, indigenous services, allied health and primary care) in thin markets.
- Increasing opportunities for providers of social care to transition to co-operative and mutual models to address workforce challenges and improve service delivery.
What will the Care Together Program deliver?
Care Together will provide education, advice and capacity building to:
- Support the development of a minimum of four new co-operatives or mutuals to deliver care.
- Support up to eight growth and scaling projects working with existing co-ops and mutuals.
- Facilitate the co-design and development of a user-tested prototype to establish a digitally enabled member-owned secondary co-operative to support service delivery in areas of unmet need by providing back-office functions for smaller providers.
How will the Care Together Program be delivered?
Care Together will be delivered by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), which is the national cross-sector body for co-operatives and mutuals in Australia.
An expression of interest process will provide an opportunity for projects to be selected based on selection criteria aligned to the objectives of the Care Together Program.
The BCCM hosts a Social Care Community of Practice, which meets online to build awareness of co-operatives and mutuals in social care, including Australian and overseas case studies.
This is an opportunity for individuals and organisations interested in social care co-operatives and mutuals to be connected to the Care Together Program and learn from others.
About co-ops and mutuals
Co-operatives and mutuals are member-owned businesses formed to benefit the people who use them or work in them, rather than shareholders. Designed around seven international co-operative values and principles, including open and voluntary membership and democratic member control, co-ops and mutuals empower their members to be active participants in the enterprise.
Eight in 10 Australians are members of at least one co-operative or mutually owned organisation. These include organisations formed to provide social care, including aged care and disability services, primary health care, housing for health key workers and people living with disability, veterans’ care and Indigenous services.
Co-ops and mutuals can have different types of members. Members can be individuals, as in customer owned banks (building societies, credit unions and mutual banks like Bank Australia and Great Southern Bank); businesses such as small and medium enterprises (Plumbers’ Supply Co-operative, Go Vita Co-operative); producers like farmers (CBH Group, Norco, Dairy Farmers); policy holders as in mutual health funds (HCF, Australian Unity); roadside assistance members (RACQ, NRMA, RAA and RAC WA); or employees, in worker co-operatives or employee owned enterprises (Kudos Services, ARUP). Australia’s member-owned super funds are also mutuals.
Compared to other countries, Australia has fewer co-operatives and mutuals in social care. In 2021, responding to the Royal Commission into Aged Care, the BCCM published Action to Empower: Why Australia needs more co-operative and mutual enterprises in health, community and social services. The report focused on the potential contribution of co-ops and mutuals to innovations and reforms in aged care and disability services informed by global evidence. Research also shows that co-ops and mutuals are more likely to form where there are co-op friendly business support programs available.
Increasing the diversity of ownership models in social care sectors increases opportunities for place-based approaches to care delivery that respond to the needs of people who need care and the people providing care. Depending on the purpose of the enterprise, different membership models can be considered. This includes worker, consumer, multi-stakeholder and community ownership models.
There are emerging examples of successful social care co-operatives and mutuals in Australia providing a basis for growing the presence and impact of member-owned enterprises in social care and more opportunities for workers to become owners of the business they work in, creating incentives for them to be more personally engaged in successful outcomes.