Radical Help

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* Book: Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Revolutionise the Welfare State . By Hillary Cottam. Virago, 2018

URL = http://www.hilarycottam.com/radical-help/

Kate Raworth writes: "her work is all about how the welfare state can become a partner state that empowers people by putting human relationships (and local commons) at the heart of their services. She is a designer focused on social change, and creates a series of locally based initiatives that are effectively commons organisations, which have evident success in tackling youth unemployment, loneliness, health issues." (via email, September 2018)



"Radical Help is about new ways of organising living and growing that have been developed with communities across Britain.

The British welfare state transformed our lives. The model was emulated globally, setting the template for the ways we think about social change across the world. But this once brilliant innovation can no longer help us face the challenges of today.

Radical Help argues that our 20th century system is beyond reform and suggests a new model for this century: ways of supporting the young and the old, those who are unwell and those who seek good work At the heart of this new way of working is human connection. When people feel supported by strong human relationships change happens. And when we design new systems that make this sort of collaboration feel simple and easy people want to join in.

The vision is big but Radical Help is a practical book. It shows how we can make change and how we can make a transition now towards a new system that can take care of everyone."


"The Beveridge Report laid the foundations for the UK's welfare state. Seventy- five years later, Hilary Cottam says, ‘We can recover the original intention and re-invent it for our times. In this way we can create something new – in fact it’s already happening’.

RADICAL HELP is about new ways of organising, living and growing that have been developed with people and communities across Britain. Thousands have participated in the experiments that form the core of Radical Help - focusing on Families, Youth and Work, the Elderly and Health - delivering solutions that have been effective and affordable.

At the heart of this new way of working is human connection. When people feel supported by strong human relationships, change happens. And when we design new systems that make this sort of collaboration and connections feel simple and easy, people want to join in. This is not surprising and yet our current welfare state does not try to connect us to one another, despite the abundant potential of our relationships. Each of the solutions becomes stronger as more people participate. This is an approach that upends the current emphasis on managing scarcity.

The vision behind Radical Help is big, but Hilary has shown that the creative steps to make it happen are small and simple; through collaboration with welfare professionals, through engaging with those who are looking for new forms of help and, above all, from those who are transforming their lives often in harsh circumstances. Hilary says, ‘This book started outside our welfare institutions. I went into homes, communities and workplaces asking people what they would do’. Each of these experiments started with an invitation.

Radical Help is an invitation to join in, and the invitation is open to all of us."


Nicholas Timmins:

The book "argues that it’s imperative that we help people who in one form or another have come to rely on the welfare state’s myriad services—or who get lost within them—to take back control of their own lives. It’s vital that we help them build on their own capabilities, create their own connections and fulfil their own desires.

In humane and beautifully written terms, Radical Help details a series of experiments around the country that have done just that—dealing with “chaotic families,” the unemployed, benefit claimants and the lonely elderly living with chronic medical conditions. The solution is renewal through relationships, which will require harnessing some very old as well as newer technologies.

It is a tale of successes and failures, and sometimes of success followed by failure. Existing services struggle to adapt to new approaches, but given the right support can do well. When the money gets tight, though, these ideas can be abandoned: they feel too “soft,” in more than one sense of the word.

The biggest challenge, which Cottam acknowledges, is not so much how to “scale up” (because the whole point here is that the system should be very local and individual) but how to make such ideas more mainstream. One is left with a nagging query about how much success depends on the exceptional individuals that Cottam seems able to recruit to her cause. But even so there are powerful ideas here. This book should be required reading for every politician, professional and manager who seeks to make the UK a better place. They should ask themselves: how much of this could we do?" (https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/how-to-fix-the-welfare-state)

More information

  • www.hilarycottam.com
  • @HilaryCottam
  • View Hilary’s TedGlobal talk, bit.ly/2Crk8GO