From welfare state to enabling state: what role for foundations?


Martyn Evans

Martyn Evans

Martyn Evans

Most of us have benefited enormously from the models of welfare state that emerged after 1945 and are much healthier, wealthier and better educated as a result. Even pre-2007 however, outcomes for a significant minority in the UK and Ireland and indeed across Europe were failing to improve.

Sir John Elvidge, former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government and Carnegie Fellow, tells a powerful story about outcomes when introducing A Route Map to the Enabling State, the Carnegie UK Trust’s short guideto how governments can help people and communities take more control and make this a success.

It’s about that moment of realization that the long, and often positive, pathway of ever-growing state services might have overreached itself. And it is common to decision makers and public policy commentators across Europe.

To continue improving wellbeing, Sir John argues, we require a new model of government – the ‘enabling state’. An ‘enabling state’ recognizes that support from social networks and participation in community and civic life are important in improving our wellbeing and that the state has a role to play in supporting individuals and communities to take a more active role in maximizing their own wellbeing. Consequently we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in public policy making – away from the ‘top down’ service delivery of old to approaches that give individuals and communities more control.

For the most part this shift has been positive. The rise of community ownership of land, housing and other assets in the UK, for example, has been transformative. But the shift is also occurring piecemeal, transformative language is being co-opted by vested interests, and not all individuals and communities are equally able to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits offered by an enabling state.

Making it a success

So how can we give communities more control and make it a success? Drawing on 18 months of research, the report argues that a strategic focus on wellbeing is crucial. This creates the conditions for a more rounded, flexible approach to public services with a greater focus on preventative measures rather than crisis intervention.

He recommends that we design policies and programmes that do not ‘get in the way’ and that create opportunities for people to take control and to help each other; that communities should be given legislative rights and assets transferred into community ownership. Investing in disadvantaged communities is also vital. Not everyone who wants to help themselves or others has the means to do so. Government must rebalance inequalities.

What does this mean for foundations?

Our research highlights that no one actor can improve wellbeing in isolation. In our interconnected and complex world we must work with others to tackle shared challenges. This raises two key issues for foundations. The first is our own relationship with citizens and communities. To what extent are we using our resources to foster greater community and individual control over wellbeing? Are there opportunities for us to improve the effectiveness of our programmes and achieve better outcomes by giving individuals and communities more control?

The second is our relationship with government and others. Traditional approaches are failing to tackle shared challenges such as growing inequality, migration, rising youth unemployment, and declining trust in politics and public institutions. While in the past, foundations may have avoided funding activities that are also funded by the state, is this always the most effective way to achieve positive change for individuals and communities? Is it time for a more collaborative approach? And if it is how can we make this a success?

Over the next couple of months, building on a seminar held at the OECD headquarters in early 2014, we will be exploring some of these important questions with European foundations, the European Foundation Centre and the OECD.

For more information about the Carnegie UK Trust’s Enabling State research and to access all of the publications in the Enabling State series, click here.

Martyn Evans is CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust.

Tagged in: Foundations the Welfare State

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