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Government should enable citizens by "getting out of the way"

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, June 19, 2014 - 00:01 GMT Jump to Comments

Our future wellbeing depends on "an Enabling State" and putting "wellbeing" at the heart of public policy argues Sir John Elvidge in a Carnegie Trust study

Sir John Elvidge, former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government and Fellow of the Carnegie UK Trust, has argued that improving the wellbeing of UK citizens depends on a new and more ‘Enabling’ State approach being adopted by our Government. To do that, government needs to stop being a barrier to the empowerment of people.

The finding is one of several key actions outlined in a new report A route map to an Enabling State, produced by Sir John on behalf of philanthropic organisation the Carnegie UK Trust. It marks the culmination of an 18 month research project to produce the most comprehensive contemporary review of public policy reform from around the UK and Ireland on the topic of the nature and role of government.

There has already been interest in the findings from the internationally influential Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sir John Elvidge, who holds a Fellowship with the Carnegie UK Trust, said: “There is clear evidence that people wish to be in control of their own lives. There is also evidence that feeling in control is a factor in better physical and mental health. So it goes with the grain of both our individual and our collective interest to seek to maximise that control.”

The recommendations for governments put forward by Sir John and the Carnegie UK Trust, are:

1.             Getting out of the way

2.             Giving permission

3.             Helping others help each other

4.             Giving people help to do more

5.             Giving people rights

6.             Making enabling the ‘new normal’

7.             Investing in disadvantaged communities

8.             A  focus on wellbeing

Sir John said: “I see this as a matter of seeing what is happening around us with fresh eyes and trying to build on the strengths of what communities, families and individuals are achieving, for themselves and each other.  It is a description of contemporary realities not a theory.  The step forward in the document is about proposing what governments at all levels can do to encourage and support positive change.”

Elvidge argues that the state is excellent at providing standardised services. But the state’s ability to improve wellbeing in all circumstances is limited because each person sees their own wellbeing differently and the state isn’t good at individual responses. It works for the many on behalf of the majority. Where people want something which feels right for them individually or their family they are increasingly finding ways to mix and match from a variety of sources.

There is a need for Governments to empower and support communities and families while stoping doing things for people that they can organise and do themselves.

"The motives for trying to intervene may be benign but it doesn’t help in the long term." Says Sir John. "There are some great examples of better results achieved by communities across the UK and Ireland and we believe we shall find more internationally, through our engagement with OECD. What this is about is, learning from the best and adapting that into a new relationship between citizens and governments focused on wellbeing.”

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of Carnegie UK Trust added: “What has been highlighted by this work is the need to put wellbeing at the heart of public policy in the UK and to do that we need a change in the way governments not only think but work.

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