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The Care Act 2014 gave English local authorities a duty to ‘shape’ social care markets and encouraged them to work co-productively with stakeholders. Grid-group cultural theory is used here to explain how local authorities have undertaken market shaping, based on a four-part typology of rules and relationships. The four types are: procurement (strong rules, weak relationships); managed market (strong rules, strong relationships); open market (weak rules, weak relationships); and partnership (weak rules, strong relationships). Qualitative data from English local authorities show that they are using different types of market shaping in different parts of the care market (e.g. residential vs home care), and shifting types over time. Challenges to the sustainability of the care system (rising demand, funding cuts, workforce shortages) are pulling local authorities towards the two ‘strong rules’ approaches which run against the co-productive thrust of the Care Act. Some local authorities are experimenting with hybrids of the two ‘weak rules’ approaches but the rival cultural biases of different types mean that hybrid approaches risk antagonising providers and further unsettling an unstable market.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Early online date2 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PR-R14-1215- 21004 Shifting-Shapes: How can local care markets support quality and choice for all? and PR-ST-1116-10001 Shaping Personalised Outcomes - How is the Care Act promoting the personalisation of care and support?). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Social care
  • co-production
  • cultural theory
  • grid-group
  • markets
  • stewardship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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