Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare

The union of personal experience and professional knowledge has informed Peter Beresford’s latest book All our welfare which publishes today. In his guest post he reflects on a life lived in parallel with the development of the welfare state and suggests greater involvement of participants in the process of welfare could be the key to an enduring future…

Beresford imageWriting All Our Welfare has really made me realize just how much the welfare state has impacted on my life – personally as well as professionally.

At a time when we are encouraged to think of ‘welfare’ as for ‘other’ people, particularly stigmatized and devalued other people, this goes against the grain of received wisdom.

I realize that I may have had more contact than most people, with state services – including so-called heavy end ones, like ‘benefits’, psychiatric system, environmental health, rent officers and so on. But this increasingly feels like a strength rather than a weakness in exploring social policy.

Lived experience

I wanted my book to include and value lived experience as well as traditional ‘expert’ knowledge. As part of this I included comments from many members of my family in the book. What was interesting was that all of them could speak from direct experience about the welfare state, from age three to 91 and most did so enthusiastically (Charlie (aged 11) and Poppy (aged 9) weren’t too keen on some aspects of school!).

Mrs Beresford

My mother as a young woman working in the East End sweatshops, wearing the kind of hat she made as a milliner

Connecting the welfare state, past and present, with my own life and family, has also highlighted for me three other key issues for future social policy raised by the UK welfare state. These are the issues of participation, diversity, snobbery and inequality. Established after the second world war, the welfare state was essentially a creature of its age.

Paternal vs participatory

This meant that it was based on principles of doing good ‘to’ and ‘for’ people, rather than involving them in the process and seeing what they wanted. But the power of its values still gave it strength. Participatory, however, it definitely was not and paternalistic, it often could be.

Sadly the neo-liberal social policies we have been seeing grafted on to it since, have shown no greater capacity to treat us as equals, and have often called a halt to innovative ways in which welfare state services began to involve and empowered people.

Beresford Snr playing polo

My father (in the middle) at the same time in his life, having fun playing polo with friends

I have always felt uncomfortable with snobbery and inequality.

Perhaps this is because I have an unusual, not to say strange background, descending from two very different immigrant groups.

My father’s family came from the aristocracy descended from the Norman invaders. My mother’s family were East End London working class Jews who had fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.


“..right from the start…snobbery and class inequality, have been a key problem confronting the welfare state”

Right from the start such snobbery and class inequality, have been a key problem confronting the welfare state, with the ‘better off’ wanting to kill it at birth and current governments pressing us to be ‘aspirational’, deny who we are and, to ‘other’ those who may need the support of welfare services.

Much more needs to be said about this unpleasant and enduring aspect of English society, with its Downton Abbey fantasies and preoccupation with status. But I believe it is at the heart of efforts to destroy the welfare state and demonise those who turn to it for help.

The real downton abbey

The real Downton Abbey: my grandmother, Baroness Decies, with friends and family, at home in a world of inequality, over-privilege and entitlement

Welfare state and diversity

Finally and again related to my own family origins, is the issue of the welfare state and diversity. It initially failed badly to address this with any sense of equality, internalizing wider efforts to re-subordinate women after the war, reinforcing racial divisions, pathologising gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people and institutionalizing and devaluing older and disabled people.

But welfare state services have also been at the vanguard of liberatory efforts to challenge social divisions and value diversity since.

If neo-liberal social policy has sought to trade on and reinforce traditional class divisions and inequality, welfare state services, workers and organisations have developed many initiatives to advance inclusion, equality and participation, reported in the book.

“Neo-liberal social policy is taking us into…the pre-welfare state scenario”

It is these principles of participation, valuing diversity and challenging social inequality which both offer hope for sustainable social policy for the future and offer a route map for achieving it. Neo-liberal social policy is taking us into a cul de sac, where more and more people face insecurity, anxiety and poverty – the pre-welfare state scenario.

‘Expert’ prescriptions for benign reform, carry less and less weight with people in populist times. Instead we need to work for processes of change and forms of support that emphasise involvement and equal relationships. That was the strong message I got from researching and writing All Our Welfare and that is what the best help I have received has always felt like. Hopefully the book will be a source of similarly helpful messages for many more reading it.

#downtonabbey #welfare #diversity #participatorycare #allourwelfare

All our welfare [FC]Peter Beresford OBE is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University London @Bruneluni and Professor of Citizen Participation at the University of Essex @Uni_of_Essex. You can follow Peter on Twitter @BeresfordPeter

All our welfare is available to purchase here  from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

5 Responses to “Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare”

  1. 1 Steve Rogowski January 29, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I look forward to reading what I am sure is an excellent book.

  2. 3 landrights4all January 29, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Would this satisfy your values as a strategy for the need to”…work for processes of change & forms of support that emphasise involvement & equal relationships”?

  3. 4 Peter Beresford January 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    thanks Chris i think these are helpful ideas. Some disabled people and people with long term conditions, may feel that employment could never work for them however flexible the labour market is. But although politicians go on about getting people into paid work, they do not look carefully as you suggest at how to make that more possible

  1. 1 Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society? | The Policy Press Blog Trackback on May 11, 2016 at 9:16 am

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