Towards the end of his life William Beveridge, the architect of the modern welfare state published a third report. In this report, Beveridge, voiced his concerns that he had both missed and limited the potential power of the citizen. He believed that he had been overly statist in his approach and that people would come to define themselves by their needs, resulting in high cost and personal misery. The welfare state was in other words preventing people from using their own resources.
At Participle we believe the post war institutions have been remarkably successful at transforming society, but they are no longer fit for purpose. The arrangements we have will not deliver a more socially cohesive, fairer nation because the problems we face are so different and the nature of British society too is so changed from that of 1942.
We need a new ‘Beveridge’, a vision as bold and as imaginative as the original one was in its day. At Participle we are working towards just such a vision – one we call Beveridge 4.0 because we take Beveridge’s third report as our starting point.
Beveridge 4.0 is not about re-defining the ‘giants’ but rather about a new lens to look at both new and entrenched social issues. We need to turn current approaches on their heads and start not with what is wrong with the institutions, but with people themselves and what they potentially have to offer. In other words we start with the power of the citizen. If we were to distil our approach to two things we would say it is about participation and social contribution.
Our vision is informed by the work we do every day in communities across Britain and driven by five core principles. Each takes as a starting point a major principle in Beveridge’s original report and re-evaluates it for the specific demands of our time. The Community Allowance embodies these principles.
First we propose a shift from needs to capabilities. A needs based model forces individuals to prove that they are eligible for services, a process of self-definition that all too rapidly becomes one of self belief as Beveridge himself realised.
A capabilities approach draws on the work of the nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen. It powerfully inverts the logic of ‘I need…” to ‘I want to be able to live this way…’. In other words it recognises the importance of inequality and builds on opportunity, whilst fostering a deep commitment to supporting people in such a way that they can seize and shape the opportunities life offers. We have focused on three capabilities that we believe are core to being a twenty first citizen: relationships, work and learning and the environment – local and global.
Secondly, we propose a shift towards universal services that are open to all. It is currently not untypical for a public service to spend up to 80 percent of its resources on gatekeeping: assessment exercises designed to keep people out. This is a misuse of resources. It also shows a deeper misunderstanding of the nature of the challenges we now face: climate change, ageing, the so-called life style diseases – all call for universal, preventative services – solutions which are open to all and open to mass contribution as well as mass use.
Our new service Southwark Circle, designed with and for older people, shows this principle in action. Southwark Circle helps its members take care of little jobs and builds social connections, supporting an active, rich third age. Our membership crosses the social spectrum – the service has been designed to appeal to all. In turn the more heavily and widely the members use the services available, the healthier and happier they will be and the more resources there will be in the system to offer support to others – a virtuous circle.
Closely related is the third shift, a move from a narrow financial focus, to a focus on resources. The current welfare state counts only contributions made through the taxation system. Alternatives have been tried – time banks for example that bank volunteer time – but they are fragile, competing with, rather than contributing to a wider system. We need new platforms that combine financial, voluntary and private resources, thus growing the overall resource pot to support new ways of doing things.
Our work with families in chronic crisis – many of them third generation unemployed and suffering from entrenched issues of poverty and social exclusion has shown us how even in this most challenging situation, people have something to give, something to build on, provided the benefit system does not get in the way. Unfortunately, our experience across the country has shown how the benefits system often stops people from taking up the opportunity for paid work. The Community Allowance would tackle this.
Fourth, an emphasis on distributed institutional networks, such as community organisations. This does not just mean a shift from the centre to the local, which we support, but a more radical shift away from doing things to people, to doing them with people. More bottom up, participative approaches are both dependent on and sustained by a more distributed model. A more humane, conversational relationship is possible at the community level. And of course these distributed institutions are infrastructure light, compared to their 1950s predecessors – an email account rather than a new building is all that is needed.
Finally, our fifth proposed shift is from the current focus on individuals to one on social networks. Our experience is that people want to support each other, but the systems and services on offer make this hard, if not impossible. Take our current youth services as an example. Youth services currently target narrow groups of young people defined by age and risk – teenage pregnancy for example. The service then tries to contain the target group within institutions such as youth centres. In contrast, international research overwhelmingly shows that it is intergenerational relationships that foster a wider sense of possibility that determines a young person’s future – in other words a network, not a narrow focus on an individual.
The current economic and political crisis is a moment of opportunity. We have been faced by two dominant, atomising narratives: the market telling us that we are individual consumers defined by our desires and wants and the state, which at once has tried to mimic the market’s emphasis on consumption and to define us by our needs. If there is one message Participle has heard most loudly through our work it is this: we want to be socially connected and to collectively contribute to making change happen.