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Catherine Needham, Kerry Allen and Kelly Hall

Today we launch the findings from a two-year evaluation of micro-enterprises in social care, based in the School of Social Policy here at Birmingham University. Micro-providers of care and support, employing 5 members of staff or fewer, have been proliferating within social care. Our research compared micro-providers with small, medium and large care providers in three areas of England.

Twenty-seven care organisations in England took part in the study, covering a range of sizes and functions, including day activities and support in the home. Among the 143 people interviewed were owners, managers, members of staff, carers, and those receiving care services, including older and disabled people.

The study found that micro-enterprises can deliver more personalised, innovative and valued support for a similar or lower cost than larger providers. These benefits seem to be based on the micro-enterprises having greater continuity of staff, greater staff autonomy and greater accessibility of managers compared to larger organisations.

Here are some examples of the micro-enterprises we included in the research (names have been changed to preserve anonymity):

  • Barbara works on her own, providing help in the home to about 14 people in her local area. She is very flexible in what she does, from preparing food to cleaning out cupboards and taking people to the doctors or to concerts. She said: ‘Had our redundancy [from a care agency].  I was always getting in trouble for doing too much, like cooking meals and doing somebody’s washing. And when I was made redundant, that was it.  I just made me mind up I was going to do it.’
  • Elect is a micro day centre which offers social and craft activities to a small number of women with learning and physical disabilities. A family member of someone who attends the centre told us: ‘The main thing I like about here is it’s the only place I feel I can trust…I can go away with an easy conscience knowing that she’s looked after basically.  We’ve never got that anywhere else.’
  • The A Team is a football club, set up and run by someone with learning disabilities. The group is open to all abilities and include several people with physical and learning disabilities. A member of the group commented: “I just really go there more to interact and exercise. You know it’s better than just [being] sat on my computer all day. If I can go out and interact with people, you know, it’s going to help me to go out in the future. Like I say if I get a job or I go back to college again.”

Micro-enterprises can find it hard to get started and to stay in business. Often lacking the local authority contracts and promotional resources of larger organisations, micro-enterprises market themselves through word-of-mouth and local networks. More individualised commissioning, including higher take-up of direct payments, will be needed if micro-enterprises are to flourish.

For more information go to and follow the discussion on Twitter, #microsupport, @DrCNeedham