Five Principles for New Public Policies

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The five guiding design principles developed by Participle:

  1. Moving from a system focused on needs to one more concerned with capabilities;
  2. Moving from services that are targeted to ones that are open to all;
  3. Moving away from a financially focused system to one focused on resources;
  4. Avoiding centralised institutions in favour of more effective distributed networks;
  5. Relaxing the absolute focus on the individual including more of a focus on social networks



These five principles are formulated by the Participle initiative, in their proposed update Beveridge 4.0, a proposal for a new reform of the welfare state, based on the weaknesses that have been identified in the great post-WWII reforms of William Beveridge.




Through our practice, Participle has identified five core principles for a 21ST century welfare state. We have summarised them below. 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. In this way, we at Participle see and recommend a major shift from an outmoded and empirically disproven practice to a new and researched practice, created in collaboration with the wider public.

A Capabilities Model

The welfare state we have inherited is a needs-based model. With the exception of most health care and education services, individuals need to prove that they are eligible to receive a service or state support, a process of self-definition that can become selfbelief; a process that is negatively self-perpetuating.

Working with the older population in Southwark, London we have seen, for example, how ailments and infirmities must be exaggerated in order to receive a service. Once a service is accessed, individuals often perpetuate this syndrome, for instance taking less exercise than they should, to ensure that they are not seen as fit and able. Such behaviour is both logical and wide-spread in a climate of scarcity and rigorously assessed eligibility criteria. Similarly attempts to cut benefits are more likely to encourage citizens to ensure that they become eligible for more expensive benefits: the perverse logic of need making it ever harder for them to break out of this cycle.

Our practice has shown us the power of inverting this model, by thinking about the assets of individuals and communities, and how these might be developed and supported as positive capabilities. It was striking in Southwark that the very individuals who explained how needy they had to be to access various services, simultaneously lamented that they had so much to offer in other areas of their lives, they wanted to contribute and participate, but ‘the system’ worked against this.

A capabilities or assets-based model would no longer be based on an individual claiming ‘I need x or y benefit or service, but rather, ‘I want to live in this way and I would like to be able to…’

The original capabilities model as developed by Martha Nussbaum includes ten capabilities.v To keep it simple, we focus on three assets or capabilities: relationships; work and learning; and the environment. These map directly onto our core vision of meaningful relationships, a role in life and an enriching place to be.

Before leaving the capabilities model, perhaps a final note is needed to address the issue of those that are ‘incapable’. Two points seem important here. Firstly, Participle’s work usually starts with those that others – perhaps the state, the media, or wider society - consider to be incapable (for example the housebound elderly, ‘chaotic’ families or ‘problem’ youth). Again and again we have found that by not defining individuals or our work by a notion of need, we are able to unlock aspirations and capabilities. Secondly, and particularly relevant to the elderly but also for example to those with learning disabilities, our concept is one of a journey: even those in the most challenging circumstances can build from a to b and, there are times in everyone’s lives whether through age or illness or other unforeseen circumstance, one is drawing on the capital both economic and social that has been built at other times – this is why relationships in particular are key.

Universal Preventative Services: Open to All

The nature of the challenges we face, from climate change to chronic disease, calls for universal, preventative services – solutions which are open to all, and open to mass contribution as well as mass use.

Resource Focus

The current system links an individual’s entitlement to benefits to a contributory system that focuses only on National Insurance contributions. This narrow financial focus then extends into and limits the consideration of how services will be paid for.

Our work does two things. It focuses on root causes, and often shows that resources are in the wrong place. Our prison work is an example. It costs £37,000 per year to keep a prisoner incarcerated, 94 percent of which is allocated to security. Thinking about different ways of designing the building and its security systems can release some of this funding to dedicate to holistic programmes, which have been proven internationally to combat re-offending, but were previously seen as too expensive to fund in the UK.

Secondly, our work focuses on expanding the definition of, and access to, the resources available. Ageing is perceived as a problem, because the numbers of elderly people are growing and their predicted care needs are larger than the state resources currently provided. However some 80 percent of the wealth in Britain is held by this same population group – and this is wealth calculated only in equity, ignoring the skills and time latent within it. Working with those who control these resources, the elderly themselves, we have developed a different way of thinking about resources and how to combine them. Southwark Circle mixes voluntary, state and private resources to provide a greatly enriched offer to its members than that narrowly designed as ‘social care’. Our work in encouraging active lifestyles among residents on a deprived housing estate in Kent was similar: the Activ Mobs combine professional and community time and talents in new ways to support sustained exercise.

Participle’s work in this area contributes to a number of similar innovations taking place within Britain and internationally. These include: In Control’s work on individual budgets, which have successfully enabled those with learning difficulties to unlock their capabilities; participative budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil and in a more limited way in Ealing Local Authority London; and experiments with voluntary tax contributions in Bogota, Colombia.

Distributed Institutional Networks

Our existing welfare state and public services operate on highly centralised principles. The current debate about devolving more power to local institutions, whilst welcomed, does not get to the heart of the matter since it still perceives a world in which things are largely done to and for people and communities. The only difference is that now local, rather than national government will be ‘doing’ it.

More bottom-up, participative approaches are both dependent on and sustained by a more distributed model. We can take the problem of diabetes as an example, something we have previously worked on and written about. Diabetes affects more than 2 million people in Britain and absorbs 10 percent of hospital costs. Yet effective management of the condition does not need hospital based care, but rather support in the home, the pub, the workplace – advice and networks that are close at hand, provided by peers and experts where needed.

Ivan Illich described how ‘ good institutions encourage self-assembly, re-use and repair. They do not just serve people but create capabilities in them, and support initiative, rather than supplanting it’.viii Southwark Circle is at once hyper-local and national/international (combining street level support with specialised or collective macro support) and works on just such a philosophy. The more it is used, the more sustainable it becomes as expertise and resources are distributed amongst the members.

Such distributed solutions radically change the nature of the relationship between the individual and the state. At the local level, interaction is more ‘human’ and personal, collaboration is more feasible and a genuine conversation around issues of priorities and contributions becomes possible, further reinforcing relationships. Our fellow Participle Charles Leadbeater’s book We Think powerfully illustrates the ways in which mass collaboration through distributed networks has been able to innovate new products and solve a whole range of issues from mapping the genome to addressing world debt.

Finally, it is important to note that these distributed institutions will be infrastructurelight, in contrast to their 1950s predecessors. The last ten years of ‘modernisation’ have seen a continued focus on infrastructure – huge public construction programmes and the adding on (as opposed to integration) of technology. Examples include NHS Direct and Curriculum Online.

Beveridge 4.0 challenges ‘big infrastructure’ mindsets. A user-led revolution will ensure that human needs are met first. Technology is critical, not least because it makes possible the new commonalities and collaboration. At the same time it needs to be recognised merely as the means not the end, akin to a train platform where people will stand in order to go somewhere, not the destination.

Social Networks

Our lives are greatly determined by social networks: those of us who have strong bonds with families and friends tend to live longer and happier lives. Making changes in our lives is also easier if we are supported by friends. Research shows conclusively that our behaviour is influenced most strongly by our peer groups.ix Our project work, such as Activ Mobs in Kent, builds on these insights by harnessing the potential of the bonds of friendship to make deep and lasting changes in people’s lifestyles.

We perceive that in the modern world it is often harder to hold onto these networks. Opportunities for education and work frequently take us far from our families, and can involve national and international migration. Living longer means that many of us will outlive our partners and closest friends. One of the issues that Beveridge was most keen to tackle was the problem of loneliness amongst the elderly. Yet, in Britain today half of all old people describe themselves as lonely. Little progress has been made on this front, indeed the issue may be more acute, exacerbated by the culture of the very services designed to address the problem.

Some of the most striking insights from our deep participative work with older people, their families and social networks, are how difficult it is for adult children to ensure that their ageing parents and neighbours have the provision they need. Most adult children live at a distance from their ageing parents, which makes caring for them even harder.

Strikingly, even so called ‘self funders’, those that do not need help from the state but are looking to buy help in the private care market face the same issues.

People want to support each other but the systems and services on offer make this hard, if not impossible. The old people’s home is a graphic illustration. An option chosen by most families at the end of the line, when caring for a relative has become too difficult, it as if a loved one is imprisoned there. Where before families felt broken by the level of care they needed to find, without support, now they are seen as interfering if they try to contribute in some way.

This is a deep challenge of social reform. Public services need both to be based around social networks – taking into account families and friends, rather than focusing on the individual – and designed to foster these relationships." (