What does Relational Welfare Mean?

Although Participle has closed its doors, Relational Welfare was always part of a bigger movement towards services that put people and relationships at their heart. After 3 years of running this blog and seeing all the fantastic groups and individuals committed to making this a reality, we are confident Relational Welfare will continue to grow and shape the world.

If you are interested in receiving updates on key developments in Relational Welfare, or in the work of Participle’s founder, Hilary Cottam, you can sign up on our legacy website, or follow @HilaryCottam on Twitter.

The context of relational welfare

Since the welfare state was established in the 1950s, our society has changed in significant and challenging ways: our population is ageing, long term health conditions are more prevalent, our family structures have changed, and despite huge rises in wealth for some, we’re facing the biggest increases in social inequality for over 50 years.

The response of this government and the last one has been to talk about public service reform.  Some new ideas – the growth of the hospice movement for cancer care, the early success of Sure Start child development programmes – have made real differences in people’s lives.

Yet, in most cases what reform has meant is a dispiriting increase in bureaucracy for both those who use and provide our services.  For example, social workers spend on average up to 80% of their time on form-filling and other tasks around these forms. Did you know that up to 80% of any service budget in the UK is spent assessing people’s needs and keeping them out of the service?  Such a waste of talent and money when needs are growing.

In order to meet the big and new challenges facing us it is not enough to simply privatise these old models (which is what so much reform has meant).

What we need is a truly responsive welfare state that builds the capabilities of all: services that value and build on relationships.  We must have a system that understands that loneliness kills; that you need a social network to find a job when 80% of jobs are never advertised; that you need someone to stand by your side when you have grown up in a community that no longer remembers decent work and you are confronting all the problems of violence, depression and anxiety that go along with this. We call this relational welfare.

Relational Welfare in Action

Relational welfare is not just an idea.  At Participle we created new examples of how it can work and how we can pay for it.  Several thousand people have benefited so far.

The Circle Movement fights isolation and loneliness among older people while prolonging independence. A rich social network provides a structure for people to reach out and get lower level care and small practical tasks taken care of, such as changing a lightbulb or planting a tree.

The Life Programme is an empowering experience for so-called troubled families who face multiple, multi-generational complex problems. We provide the framework for those at the front line to create a new relationship with these families, putting them in charge of their own interventions.

Backr is a social network that connects people interested in boosting their careers, whether they be looking for work or simply planning for future success. Providing a way to build personal connections online and face to face, it helps its members see opportunities in the world of work that might otherwise stay hidden.

If you want to read more about our practical examples, visit our legacy website, www.participle.net.

For a more in-depth exploration of relational welfare, read the essay that inspired the movement: ‘Relational Welfare’ by Hilary Cottam. Along the same lines is our new vision for public services, which builds on the achievements of our shared past: Beveridge 4.0.

7 thoughts on “What does Relational Welfare Mean?”

  1. This is a pretty exciting new way of doing things. Participle have found a true way of putting the people who use services centre stage – and it’s leading to a revolution in how those services look and what they do. It’s really good to see that policy makers are waking up to this – it’s going to change the face of the welfare state.

  2. Fantastic stuff. Our political debate naturally defaults to state vs market or public vs private sector. Yet we know from personal experience that it’s our relationships that make our lives work. Our worst days of our life? Almost definitely it’s about a relationship – someone you lost or almost lost. Our best days – probably a relationship – someone you found or committed to again.

    At The Challenge Network, we work to build stronger relationships where often they are lacking – across income brackets, ethnic backgrounds and generations. We think it matters that we have the lowest levels of trust in other people anywhere in Europe. We think it matters that in a country full of diversity most of our friends are like us. That’s why four years ago we started a small pilot connecting 150 young people from all ethnicities and income together. We’re now connecting 14,000 young people a year with the help of hundred of volunteers and temporary staff – see more here: http://www.the-challenge.org

    We need more organisations like participle who speak out about the importance of connecting people together. We’re starting to write some of our thoughts here: http://jonyates.blogspot.co.uk/ Feel free to steal any that are of interest!

  3. This is a fascinating and innovative idea that deserves wide discussion.

    I come from a somewhat different background in that I spent my whole working life in the Far East where there was not much state welfare provision and where family and community ties were much stronger that they seem to be here in UK. Charities also were to the fore in provision for welfare services.

    But though the state did not do much more than provide the most basic services, through a rather innovative taxation system large amounts of money were channelled into welfare projects like clinics, hospitals, parks and services for the elderly. This was achieved by setting an annual levy on the one organisation that that was permitted to run all legal gambling in the territory. The money raised was ring-fenced for these charitable welfare projects.

    As has been said, those employed in state run organisation in UK like the NHS, complain that they are overburdened by bureaucracy. This is an inevitable concomitant of state provision. It is public money that is being used and the state has a duty to ensure that it is being used well. Often this is done badly and every failure and exposure of waste results in yet a further layer of bureaucracy being added. So, in the end, more time is spent on checks and balances, than the core purpose of the organisation.

    I am with JS Mill here and believe that where the state undertakes many of these functions, they are done less well, at higher cost and with more constricting bureaucracy than if done by non-state organisations. Which is why, in the relational welfare model, I feel there is a need to debate the role of the state.
    Elsewhere, in a blog related to this page, a mother has written of her experiences with provision of support for her children in two different council areas. But no-one seems to ask why and how much support should the state provide in this area?

    While the provision of basic paediatric medical and health services may well have to be the task of the state if we are to try to stop some from falling though the gaps, other things the mother describes are more in the nature of support for her in raising the children. She talks of loneliness and a sense of isolation comes through. The clinic became a substitute family.

    And this is the point – the state has taken over roles that used to be performed by families who often lived close by if not in the same building or street. Further more we now tend to look upon the state as a surrogate family and expect these things to be done.

    If relational welfare is to succeed, then we need to rekindle relationships with and in families, with and in neighbourhoods and see people as individuals within a social structure rather than atomised entities interacting with the state and only valued on a cost per capita basis.

    Wish you all the best in this worthwhile venture.

  4. relational welfare = LOVE.
    Starting with an appreciation of the Self (rather than a put-down) and being 5-A’s about Self and Others (Active, Alert, Alive, Awake and Aware).
    So nice to see it all in print – Feelings came before thoughts – Understanding rather than judgement (of Self and Others).
    All about Living Adventurously rather than fearfully.

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