I went to a talk too early on a Monday morning by Hilary Cottam (my boss of some years ago, and now director of Participle) and Annie Shepherd, the Chief Executive of Southwark Council. They were talking about the work they’ve done in Southwark on a future social care system that is based on many of the coproduction principles I talked about in a previous post. I liked Hilary’s use of capabilities (based on the work of Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen), and her argument that the key capabilities public services should be growing centre on relationships, work and learning, and environmental factors. She is doing this work with Charlie Leadbeater, and they have eye-catching ambition of writing the Beveridge report for today’s world.
But the work they have done to make better use of all resources in Southwark to enable people to live independently (for example, the latent desire to do more volunteering Cottam and co believe they’ve found, or the 80% of monetary wealth is in the hands of people over the age of 60) is not easy to connect immediately to the grand narrative of ‘a new Beveridge’.
More intriguing are the steps along the way to this brave new world. These steps raise some serious questions and tensions about a more participative model of public services. Beyond the fascinating issues that Annie talked about – of how to manage a moribund system of social care at the same time as developing a new system, all on existing resources, there are two tensions that I think are really significant:
First, as Hilary said, the biggest challenge for the new service they’ve developed with Southwark will be to get the wealthy older people in Dulwich to use it. They need to participate to cross-subsidise the participation of poorer people. And yet they have few incentives. This reminds me of something we noted in Kent with the low income families work too: that the poorer you are, the more you have to participate to get services. Is there a risk that all these middle class policy makers go all rosy-eyed at the thought of more volunteering, more participation, whilst never imagining that they would do it themselves?
The second tension is a really big deal, I think. It is about whether this agenda is treated as simply the next wave of managerial reform, or a new form of politics altogether. For me, unless it is the latter, it is meaningless. Talking about coproduction necessarily implies a willingness to shift power and share it more equally; however it also demands that we recognise the value of the ‘core’ economy (i.e. the non-monetary economy) – and that means that our politicians must begin to lead the way in questioning our unquestioning adherence to the notion that paid work is the best route out of poverty, and ultimately the key way in which we define the health of our society.