I’ve just finished reading “Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state” by Hilary Cottam, a book that has had a big impact on my thinking that I hope to capture in a blog. The book emphasises again and again the importance of relationships in health and social policy, something that William Beveridge regretted neglecting in his revolutionary design of the welfare state in the 40s. Here is a quote from the book on the importance of relationships.
What matters are our relationships, the simple human bonds between us. I could not see this clearly at first. Of course, I knew from the work of previous decades that we must start in the lives of others, value what they value, and relationships are part of this. I knew from academic research, from philosophy and from art that relationships make us strong and healthy. I knew that Beveridge was convinced that he had made a fatal error in writing out our human connections. It is why I chose relationships as one of the four core capabilities.
What I could not see at first, and had to learn through practice, through observing, listening and through the new forms of measurement we designed, was that relationships are the element that matters, the foundation of a new system, the new framework within which we must create.
Relationships are about you and me and the space between us, and what happens in that space. Relationships are about practical things: doing things together and about feelings, about trust and authenticity. Relationships can bend with you, they are changing and living, they ebb and flow.
A relational framework allows for new things to grow, to be expressed and to be valued. Our current framework is transactional. It is about managing, handling, treating and transferring. Transactions are useful. Sometimes we need to get from A to B or we need an operation to mend a broken bone. But a transactional approach cannot solve the biggest challenges we face. How to live well and grow, how to meet the challenges of climate change, immigration, ageing. The challenges I have tackled in this book cannot simply be managed. They are more complicated and solutions require our engagement, our hearts and our minds.
Relational working requires capacities for empathy, for human warmth and practice: the tactics and tools to make change, often in difficult circumstances. It is not fuzzy. I might not like you or agree with you, and I can recognise that not all relationships are good. But I can acknowledge you, listen, speak honestly and constructively. Above all, I can support you to make the change and to participate, just as I in turn will at some stage need you or another to support me.
A relational way of working, thinking and designing is one that creates possibility for change, one that creates abundance – our capacity for relationships, like love, is infinite. It is through creating a welfare system for this century, through sharing and working with one another, that we find our selves and we make the good life.