A relational social policy starts with an understanding of how people live well and deal with challenges in their life, often without support from high end public services.

This paper summarises the intellectual argument and supporting evidence for a relational social policy. It starts with the major changes that are taking place in the world, changes that ask for a revitalised welfare state. The ethos and practice of public policy continues to develop. The weaknesses of the current era are now clear to all; a hyper-individualism that undermines community; a corrosion of trust in public institutions; the prizing of outcomes that matter to the state over those that matter to citizens.

In Summary, a relational social policy:

  • Builds out from an understanding of how people live well and deal with challenges in their life
  • Adopts a grown up, realistic view of human relationships with the potential to undermine health and development as well as enhance it
  • Is no panacea. It is not a replacement for the shortcomings of existing social policy. It seeks to complement effective interventions for impairments to the health and development of individuals with innovations aimed at collective action
  • Influences relationships between
    • state, public systems, civil society and citizens
    • citizens living in defined neighbourhoods and communities
    • one person seeking to help another
  • Tends the space around citizens, changing patterns of connection, engagement, disrupting power and accountability structures and changing the way money flows
  • With the objective of shifting relational outcomes such as trust, belonging, pride and mutual aid
  • Drawing on the science of human development linking relational outcomes to improvements in the health and development of individuals
  • And continuously uses data to learn and adapt seeking arrangements that are optimal for the greatest proportion of citizens.

These dimensions appear to apply to:

  • Local authority wide reform programmes such as those in Wigan and Leeds
  • Changes to the structure of public systems such as devolution in Denmark, participatory democracy in multiple countries, and participatory budgeting across Scotland
  • Innovations that disrupt patterns of connection in neighbourhoods and communities or in public institutions such as the Pembroke House Settlement in South London or the Association of Camerados across the U.K.
  • Efforts to boost mutual aid, to open up opportunities for one citizen to help another, such as Maternity Mates linking of mothers with expectant mothers or Safe Families for Children using volunteers to support families with children who would otherwise come into care.

Taking the conversation forward

This paper sets out one avenue towards innovation in social policy. Others are making similar and alternative cases for change. The work of the National Local Government Network on a Community Paradigm has been mentioned, as has Hilary Cottam’s groundbreaking book Radical Help. Don Berwick’s work on the changing pattern of learning and policy in health also shines a light on the way forward. The resources associated with this paper summarise the growing bank of evidence, congruent ideas and competing ideas.

During the first six months of 2020, Ratio will initiate a series of conversations with people developing, testing and refuting new ideas. After each exchange, this paper will be updated. The interest is partly academic, contributing for example to the Joining the Dots conversation that Ratio initiated with Shift Design and other collaborators. But it is also practical, acting as a backdrop for local authorities like Islington in London looking to find new ways of reducing inequality and unleashing citizen capabilities.