Investment in social enterprise by the Department of Health has helped to challenge health inequalities and tackle unmet need, says an evaluation led by the Third Sector Research Centre.
The Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) was launched by the Department of Health in 2007. A report, released today, describes its effects up to March 2011.
The £100million fund has helped to tackle unmet need and respond to gaps in health and social care. It tended to invest in services that targeted disadvantaged or vulnerable groups, including those struggling with poverty, mental illness or harm caused by alcohol, drugs or violence.
SEIF investments were also used to empower communities and service users. Service users were strongly represented on social enterprise boards, as were paid members of staff and volunteers.
SEIF investment has been crucial in enabling new social enterprises to start up. The main output of investment so far has been structural improvements and business support that has enabled social enterprises to grow. The evaluation found that without SEIF investment, many of the organisations involved would not exist or would be considerably reduced in scope.
While it is too early to examine the health outcomes of SEIF investment, the evaluation found evidence of funds resulting in organisational changes which improved working conditions for staff and increased involvement of users and communities in service design and delivery.
The fund has not met all its ambitious aims, however. A large majority of the fund was used as grants, raising questions over the demand for loan finance amongst social enterprises and charities in the health and social care sector.
Pete Alcock from Third Sector Research Centre, who led the research, says ‘The Social Enterprise Investment Fund did much to promote organisational development amongst social enterprises delivering health and social care services, in particular those targeted at vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. However, the demand for grant funding rather than loans from many organisations raises some interesting questions about the longer term development of social investment in this field. With the social investment market place changing fast, the experiences of these social enterprises will be of particular interest to investors in the years ahead.’