Eight steps towards the greatest happiness of a nation: how the public sector can help us all

Martyn Evans
Martyn Evans is chief executive officer at Carnegie UK Trust.

Carnegie Fellow Sir John Elvidge has argued that improving the wellbeing of citizens in the UK depends on a new and more ‘enabling’ State approach being adopted by governments. But what does this mean and how can we make it a success?

Last month the Carnegie UK Trust published A route map to an Enabling State. Produced by Sir John Elvidge on behalf of the Trust, it reveals some stark lessons for our public sector and marks the culmination of an 18-month research project on the matter including the most comprehensive contemporary review of public policy reform in the UK and Ireland on the nature and role of government.

So what are the lessons that have already interested the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)?

Here we outline what Sir John calls a route map to putting people “in control of their own lives”.

Eight steps towards the greatest happiness of a nation

1. Get out of the way

Stop doing things that prevent individuals, families and communities from exercising control over their own lives. In the Republic of Ireland, social enterprise Genio provides grants to help public and third sector organisations to start delivering support beyond an institutional and government-led setting. Training and support is available to professional staff.

2. Give people permission to take control

Encourage people to take responsibility for more aspects of their lives and engage supportively with others. In Torfaen, Wales, young people face a number of challenges. The Bron Afon Youth Forum asks its young members to set the agenda. Concerned about peers who fall into homelessness, the forum has been instrumental in securing a new transitional housing unit designed to bridge the gap between the local homeless hostel and rented accommodation.

3. Help people to help each other

Government should facilitate mutual support within and between communities. The Local Area Co-ordination approach in England aims to connect members of the community together to prevent vulnerable people from reaching a point of crisis, which is often when they first come into contact with the State. Local Area Coordinators work within the community to build networks of support to identify what can be done improve someone’s wellbeing.

4. Help people to do more

Boost mutual support by transferring assets to communities or giving them scope to acquire assets. The growth in community ownership of land (half a million acres of land in Scotland are now owned by the communities who live there) and other assets such as village shops and pubs offer very tangible examples of what can happen when communities are given greater control over their own future Initiatives such as the Scottish Land Fund has provided communities with the financial means to buy land or assets and has helped provide equal access for all communities to financial capital to purchase land.

5. Give people more rights

Giving communities the ability to acquire assets can make a valuable contribution to wellbeing, reinforcing permission and encouragement with a degree of certainty. In practice the Localism Act 2011 and the forthcoming Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill both offer new rights and powers for communities and offer provision for a new Community Right to Buy, allowing communities to register an interest in local assets of community value.

6. Enablement is the new normal

In control and engaged – until proven otherwise. Build this presumption into government policies as a step on from removing older policy blockages to those ways of living our lives. Social enterprise, Participle designed a new service for older people enabling them to stay socially connected: The Circle Movement connects local older people through monthly social events and offers access to practical help.

7. Invest in disadvantaged communities

Not everyone who wants to help themselves or others has the means to do so. Government should invest in rebalancing inequalities that exist within and between communities in terms of access to financial resources and in ‘softer’ resources such as education and social networks. For example, The Violence Reduction Unit and NHS Clackmannanshire are supporting local people in Hawkhill, Alloa to improve their confidence, skills and networks. They bring vital connections to wider networks, which are often missing in our most deprived areas.

8. Tangible focus on wellbeing

Measure the environmental, social and economic outcomes of wellbeing. Public services should aim to have a more holistic effect on our lives. The National Performance Framework (NPF) in Scotland changed the way you can measure public sector performance. The abolition of government departments at the same time meant that national government was united in the pursuit of shared national outcomes. The NPF provides a link between national and local government with each local council and public sector partners (the Community Planning Partnership) working toward local Single Outcome Agreements.

What we can do to make it happen

An enabling state opens up exciting new opportunities but it also challenges us all to consider own roles and responsibilities in improving wellbeing. How can we ensure that we are all contributing to the common good?

In May 2014 by a group of civil society leaders, with support from the Carnegie UK Trust launched A Call to Action for the Common Good – a short report that puts forward a new, hopeful story of change in response to the big challenges of our day based on ‘common good’ principles and shared citizenship. The intention is to start a debate about how these principles can be turned into action.

Find out more

For more information on the Carnegie UK Trust’s Enabling State project, please get in touch with Jenny Brotchie, Policy Officer at jenny@carnegieuk.org or on twitter at @Jenny_Carnegie @CarnegieUKTrust and #EnablingState.

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