Don’t Pass Me By

The nature of the problems the welfare state is trying to solve have changed. That’s why we need to build a 21st century welfare state that puts people and relationships at its heart.

 By Hilary Cottam and Jon Cruddas

People say, ‘We want our country back’. They say, ‘The system isn’t working.’ This is a politics of recognition. It’s about how people’s lives are. And the question of their powerlessness can only be answered by giving them more power.

The country is changing but our country’s political system is standing still. Our economy and society have been organised around institutions that were founded in the early decades of the industrial revolution… These institutions no longer function effectively in a rapidly changing, increasing digitalised, post-industrial society and economy. The question facing our political system today is what will be the institutions of the coming post-industrial age…

Relationships are the glue that keep us together, the dimension that keeps us human, not just atomised consumers or parts of the body politic.

The way to build a prosperous economy lies in social renewal by giving people the power to make their way in the world. Society should be governed by its own intermediate institutions on the basis of a more human-scale democracy. These institutions are crucial to curb the excessive power of the market and the
state.

The point has been made clear that democracy gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of others and to earn their respect. People must run the new and the old institutions of our society, participating at all levels as members of an active democracy.

It will mean reforming the state and redesigning the relationship between central and local government to spread power out to our cities and regions. And it will mean helping people to take power.

Devolving power to our cities is essential. We must turn our cities into powerhouses of innovation and economic regeneration and citizens must play an active role in determining the services they receive in this new devolved arrangement.

It’s clear we must develop the self-reliance and capacities of individuals and families to avoid the costs of failure. It means designing services that develop inter-dependence within the family and its networks, and so less dependence on services provided by the state. We will devolve power to help local people help themselves and shape their services in response to their specific needs.

Relationships are the glue that keep us together, the dimension that keeps us human, not just atomised consumers or parts of the body politic. Relational welfare offers a state defined in principle and practice by collaboration and relationships rather than the agenda of institutional reform and efficiency. The nature of the
problems the welfare state is trying to solve have changed. Challenges such as ageing, chronic disease, climate change and the scale of entrenched inequality were not foreseen when our current welfare services were designed. There is a mis-match between these challenges and the institutions and services on offer.

This is an excerpt from a longer essay within a collection by Compass, entitled “Finding Our Voice: Making the 21st Century State“. Read the full version as it was originally published.

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