Mutual societies are `key to future' income is pounds 25bn

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The Independent Online
MUTUAL SOCIETIES, which are organised for and by their members and not for profit, are growing in influence and power, and should be used by the Government to cut public service spending without reducing social provision, according to a leading think-tank.

A first national audit of such groups, by the independent think-tank Demos, reveals that they are thriving, with a pounds 25bn turnover and more than 30 million members. "They could become the heart of the Third Way project," said Ian Christie, a co-author of the report. "Where public services are under strain the Government should not think that the best solution is to privatise. It should turn parts of the public sector into mutual organisations."

The report, To our Mutual Advantage, published by Demos today, lists many innovative mutual groups, in childcare, education, community care and health. Nearly half of all children aged three or four and almost 700,000 under-fives attend pre-school learning groups, which are run by parents as mutuals. They do not just deliver affordable childcare to families on low incomes but also help adults to acquire skills and confidence that foster a sense of community.

"State regulation plays a critical role in shaping the environment in which mutuals compete, and the Government can create a regulatory framework which treats mutuals fairly and allows them to thrive," said Charles Leadbeater, a co-author of the report. "The Government should develop mutualisation with all the energy put into privatisation in the 1980s."

To Our Mutual Advantage costs pounds 9.95 and is available from Demos on 0171 321 2200

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