The past 18 months have laid bare the extent to which Conservative cuts have decimated social care. Proper funding for the sector is critical for tackling low pay, short visits and long waiting lists, and ensuring more people can access the care they need.

It is right that we are having those difficult conversations about how to properly fund the sector. People who are older, or living with disability or physical or mental illness, deserve a social care service that is fit for purpose. And care workers deserve a wage they can live on, better workplace rights, and recognition for the important jobs they do every day.

But if this Government follows through on simply hiking National Insurance to pay for social care, younger workers and the lowest earners will yet again be hardest hit while many of the wealthiest won’t pay a penny. Our shopworkers, nurses, and bus drivers have been on the frontline of this pandemic – but the Conservatives are asking them to foot the bill for a social care crisis of the Government’s own making. Many of these workers will face the double whammy of an increase in NI at the same time as their Universal Credit is cut by £20 a week.

To add to the list of concerns, there is no clarity on how a hike to NI would impact devolved administrations either. NI is a Westminster tax but social care is the responsibility of devolved administrations – and there is no guarantee that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish workers would not end up paying for an England-only policy.

We need a fairer way to fully fund the sector – where the costs are shared fairly by those who can afford them and where access to care is based on need.

And as co-operators, we know that increasing funds into a market dominated by private interests won’t fix the whole problem. The shift to private market provision of services has reduced the quality of care, undermined labour market conditions, and reduced cost efficiency within the sector. When private companies make a profit, it’s those who rely on social care and the staff that deliver it who pay the price – whether through low wages, loss of workplace rights, a lack of accountability, ever shorter visits, de-personalised services, or a race to the bottom on quality.

We need wider reform of the sector so that the needs of the staff and service users come before profits – simply increasing funds without proper reform will not provide a fairer and more sustainable sector in the long-term.

Co-operative models of care put care workers and service users in the driving seat, ensuring they have a stake and a say in the services they rely on. They use the principles of co-operation to build on the first-hand knowledge of those who rely on, receive and provide care. In Wales, the Labour & Co-operative Government know that co-operation works which is why they have a special duty on Welsh local authorities to promote co-operative models.

We have been consulting our members on social care policy over the past nine months, asking what a fairer sector looks like, how care users and workers can be empowered, and how we tackle issues of low pay. We’ve learnt from great examples up and down the country of co-operative providers doing things differently. From Be Caring – a social provider in Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester owned by its employees – to Cartrefi Cymru – a co-operative provider supporting people with learning disabilities in Wales – co-operatives around the UK are demonstrating the difference that our values and principles can make in practice.

We’ll be launching our new policy ideas for debate at our conference next month – sign up to join in here.