Understanding the contribution of social enterprise to the social care sector: An exploratory study

Kelly Hall In progress  


Social care services in England are often delivered by private companies that may prioritise profit and low cost over quality of care. An alternative type of organisation is the social enterprise. Social enterprises are businesses with social missions that reinvest any profits they make back into the service or community. They have been reported to deliver increased efficiency, innovation and quality compared with public services or for-profit businesses, and so have been supported by the UK government, especially in the health and social care sectors. The reported strengths of social enterprises include the strong relationships they can create between their leaders/senior management, staff and users. For example, staff and users of social enterprises are often involved in service design. These relationships may lead to happier, more productive and engaged staff, and more responsive, innovative and person-centred care for users. However, evidence on care social enterprises remains anecdotal and often reported by the social enterprises themselves. Previous research has not explored if care social enterprises are able to deliver positive outcomes for staff, people who use services and their carers, especially when compared to other types of organisation.


This study will explore social enterprise as a potentially innovative and user-led organisational model of adult social care provision. It will develop a better understanding of how social enterprise may be able to contribute not only to the supply and choice of adult social care services, but also have the potential to deliver improved outcomes for users. The study will explore the potential of social enterprise to respond to care workforce challenges by offering a more positive working environment in which staff feel empowered and valued in their work.

The study aims to:

  1. review the existing academic, policy and practice literature to establish the existing state of knowledge on the delivery of social care in England by social enterprises and analyse current methodological approaches in the field;
  2. use existing data/evidence and undertake stakeholder consultation to ‘map’ social enterprises operating in the social care sector, to identify the outcomes they are reported to deliver and to explore the extent to which they offer innovation in service design and delivery;
  3. undertake interviews to explore how social enterprise organisations and the people working within them conceptualise the outcomes of their activities for staff, and the individuals and communities they seek to support;
  4. appraise economic methodologies in terms of their appropriateness for capturing costs and outcomes relevant to care provision by social enterprises (and potentially facilitating comparison), as identified through the review and qualitative components;
  5. share findings with policy makers, commissioners, social enterprise practitioners and users to enable a better understanding of how social enterprise is understood and may be able to contribute to the care sector;
  6. disseminate findings to academic audiences through journal publications and academic conference papers to strengthen knowledge about social enterprise in the care sector; and
  7. use the conceptual and methodological mapping developed in the exploratory study to identify future research priorities and approaches.


The research will be undertaken using an iterative approach that draws on both desk-based and empirical research methodologies:

  1. A scoping review of the literature to
    • define and conceptualise social enterprise in the care sector and understand how they are similar to and different from other types of care organisation
    • identify/develop theoretical approaches to social enterprise and social care provision
    • identify the expected outcomes of care social enterprises and seek to establish what ‘good practice’ looks like in social enterprises
    • identify cases in which the costs and outcomes associated with social enterprises have been captured/quantified and potentially incorporated within some form of comparative analysis.
  2. Mapping of social enterprises in the English adult social care sector within a purposive sample of three Local Authority areas.
  3. Stakeholder consultation involving semi-structured interviews/focus groups with approximately 30 social enterprise and social care representatives.
  4. Interviews/focus groups with staff in 5 social enterprises.