The Beveridge welfare state transformed Britain: it led to longer life spans, good health, universal education and a safety net for those out of work. But today, in the 21st century, it is not working. The post-war models are out of step with society: our population is ageing, long-term health conditons are more prevalent and our family structures have changed. The insitutions we have inherited can sometimes manage problems but they cannot support us to flourish. The cost – human as much as financial – of continuing with these old models is now too great.
At the end of his life Beveridge himself confessed that he had made a mistake: he had left out people and their communities from his vision. This omission he declared was a fatal error; it was de-humanising. Our work starts where Beveridge left off. Taking our cue from Beveridge we have started not with the institutions and the failings of the current system but with people, their families and communities, and the lives that we want to lead.
Rooted in practice, our mission advocates five core shifts that sit at the heart of all our work:
- From meeting needs to fostering capabilities
- From targeted services to models open to all
- From a financial focus to a resource focus
- From centralised institutions to distributed networks
- From individual solutions to social networks
A powerful vision and cross-party consensus were critical to the birth of the 20th century welfare state. The same ingredients are needed today. Our work over the last 10 years has shown the power of the Beveridge 4.0 principles and above all the transformation that comes with an approach that puts people and communities in the lead and develops their capabilities and relationships: an approach we have started to call Relational Welfare.
A 21st century welfare state depends on a bigger narrative: one that everyone can relate to and see themselves as part of. It's a story about dreams and struggle, a story that starts with our own lives but encompasses others: our friends, our families, our neighbours and colleagues.
The capabilities model starts like this: “I want to live in this way and I would like to be able to…”. In other words it accepts the transformative power of dreaming but - with its deep intellectual roots in the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum - the capabilities approach also acknowledges that dreams are nothing without the real assets, skills and networks needed to realise them.
At Participle we believe four capabilities are core for a flourishing life – the ability to work and learn, to be healthy, contribute to community and our relationships. We have focused on all four in our work, but we have learnt through our practice that real and lasting change is about relationships.
What do we mean by relationships in the context of a welfare state? Three things:
- An approach that includes those around you: so family work that includes everyone in the home; health work that acknowledges real support is needed to sustain change and that perhaps those around you are hindering as much as helping: an approach that sees the person and their existing relationships.
- An approach that recognises that relationships can be more important than a service or intervention – for example Circle our service for older people is a membership community providing practical support and social activities – it is the natural friendships we support to grow that make the biggest difference and we know that these friendships are not there for everyone as a matter of course. Relationships don’t always just happen: they need support and to be designed in.
- Interventions and services are sometimes necessary but for change to happen and support to be meaningful they must be human, warm and nurturing. This is not about changing a script or targets: this is about new systems, roles, measures and above all cultures. Wellogram and Backr show how this can happen.