E-marketplaces have the potential to radically transform social care services. Through interviews, case studies and original analysis, this report explores how they can – if done well – deliver personalised, innovative and integrated care.

Many local authorities are developing social care 'e-marketplaces' to give individuals easier access to adult social care services – over a quarter of English local authorities have e-marketplaces with purchasing functionality, and many more plan to implement one. E-marketplaces allow self-funded adult social care users and holders of personal budgets (including direct payment recipients) to search for and purchase products and services, in line with their personal care plans, on Amazon- or eBay-style digital platforms.

Informed by original analysis of this exciting new landscape, and interviews with expert stakeholders, this report explores the potential for these virtual local marketplaces to become powerful tools for empowering service users and integrating informal care networks with formal care provision. In the context of broad challenges in social care, it examines how local authorities are developing e-marketplaces, and the extent to which they are doing so with wider social care goals in mind. Exploring the opportunities that e-marketplaces offer to improve the way in which care is arranged and delivered, it considers what more needs to happen to ensure that their development supports personalised care for empowered citizens.

The report describes the many examples of innovative practice in this area, and of local authorities exploring and testing the potential of e-marketplaces. It also identifies three major opportunities presented by e-marketplaces for improving personalised care.

  • Improving access to the market for new and small providers of services: enabling a more diverse market, and a smoother journey to market, by lowering barriers to entry for innovative products and services, and supporting and encouraging providers to offer more responsive and flexible services.
  • Enabling user-commissioning: allowing users themselves to solicit tailored packages of services from providers, and to pool their resources and budgets to commission services as a group - including helping people with shared interests to network and meet each other
  • Integrating networks of informal and formal care: supporting a mixed economy of informal and formal care by giving users appropriately presented information about the many kinds of service available, while recognising that some services might be better suited to different online platforms.