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  • I want to tell you three stories

  • about the power of relationships

  • to solve the deep and complex social problems of this century.

  • You know, sometimes it seems like all these problems

  • of poverty, inequality, ill health, unemployment, violence, addiction --

  • they're right there in one person's life.

  • So I want to tell you about someone like this that I know.

  • I'm going to call her Ella.

  • Ella lives in a British city on a run down estate.

  • The shops are closed, the pub's gone,

  • the playground's pretty desolate and never used,

  • and inside Ella's house, the tension is palpable

  • and the noise levels are deafening.

  • The TV's on at full volume.

  • One of her sons is fighting with one of her daughters.

  • Another son, Ryan, is keeping up this constant stream of abuse from the kitchen,

  • and the dogs are locked behind the bedroom door and straining.

  • Ella is stuck.

  • She has lived with crisis for 40 years.

  • She knows nothing else, and she knows no way out.

  • She's had a whole series of abusive partners,

  • and, tragically, one of her children has been taken into care by social services.

  • The three children that still live with her

  • suffer from a whole range of problems, and none of them are in education.

  • And Ella says to me that she is repeating the cycle

  • of her own mother's life before her.

  • But when I met Ella, there were 73 different services

  • on offer for her and her family in the city where she lives,

  • 73 different services run out of 24 departments in one city,

  • and Ella and her partners and her children were known to most of them.

  • They think nothing of calling social services

  • to try and mediate one of the many arguments that broke out.

  • And the family home was visited on a regular basis by social workers,

  • youth workers, a health officer, a housing officer, a home tutor

  • and the local policemen.

  • And the governments say that there are 100,000 families

  • in Britain today like Ella's,

  • struggling to break the cycle of economic, social and environmental deprivation.

  • And they also say that managing this problem

  • costs a quarter of a million pounds per family per year

  • and yet nothing changes.

  • None of these well-meaning visitors are making a difference.

  • This is a chart we made in the same city with another family like Ella's.

  • This shows 30 years of intervention in that family's life.

  • And just as with Ella, not one of these interventions is part of an overall plan.

  • There's no end goal in sight.

  • None of the interventions are dealing with the underlying issues.

  • These are just containment measures, ways of managing a problem.

  • One of the policemen says to me,

  • "Look, I just deliver the message and then I leave."

  • So, I've spent time living with families like Ella's

  • in different parts of the world,

  • because I want to know: what can we learn

  • from places where our social institutions just aren't working?

  • I want to know what it feels like to live in Ella's family.

  • I want to know what's going on and what we can do differently.

  • Well, the first thing I learned is that cost is a really slippery concept.

  • Because when the government says that a family like Ella's

  • costs a quarter of a million pounds a year to manage,

  • what it really means

  • is that this system costs a quarter of a million pounds a year.

  • Because not one penny of this money actually touches Ella's family

  • in a way that makes a difference.

  • Instead, the system is just like this costly gyroscope

  • that spins around the families, keeping them stuck at its heart,

  • exactly where they are.

  • And I also spent time with the frontline workers,

  • and I learned that it is an impossible situation.

  • So Tom, who is the social worker for Ella's 14-year-old son Ryan,

  • has to spend 86 percent of his time servicing the system:

  • meetings with colleagues, filling out forms,

  • more meetings with colleagues to discuss the forms,

  • and maybe most shockingly,

  • the 14 percent of the time he has to be with Ryan

  • is spent getting data and information for the system.

  • So he says to Ryan,

  • "How often have you been smoking? Have you been drinking?

  • When did you go to school?"

  • And this kind of interaction rules out the possibility

  • of a normal conversation.

  • It rules out the possibility of what's needed

  • to build a relationship between Tom and Ryan.

  • When we made this chart,

  • the frontline workers, the professionals --

  • they stared at it absolutely amazed.

  • It snaked around the walls of their offices.

  • So many hours, so well meant, but ultimately so futile.

  • And there was this moment of absolute breakdown,

  • and then of clarity:

  • we had to work in a different way.

  • So in a really brave step, the leaders of the city where Ella lives

  • agreed that we could start by reversing Ryan's ratio.

  • So everyone who came into contact with Ella or a family like Ella's

  • would spend 80 percent of their time working with the families

  • and only 20 percent servicing the system.

  • And even more radically,

  • the families would lead

  • and they would decide who was in a best position to help them.

  • So Ella and another mother were asked to be part of an interview panel,

  • to choose from amongst the existing professionals

  • who would work with them.

  • And many, many people wanted to join us,

  • because you don't go into this kind of work to manage a system,

  • you go in because you can and you want to make a difference.

  • So Ella and the mother asked everybody who came through the door,

  • "What will you do when my son starts kicking me?"

  • And so the first person who comes in says,

  • "Well, I'll look around for the nearest exit

  • and I will back out very slowly,

  • and if the noise is still going on, I'll call my supervisor."

  • And the mothers go, "You're the system. Get out of here!"

  • And then the next person who comes is a policeman, and he says,

  • "Well, I'll tackle your son to the ground and then I'm not sure what I'll do."

  • And the mothers say, "Thank you."

  • So, they chose professionals who confessed

  • they didn't necessarily have the answers,

  • who said -- well, they weren't going to talk in jargon.

  • They showed their human qualities and convinced the mothers

  • that they would stick with them through thick and thin,

  • even though they wouldn't be soft with them.

  • So these new teams and the families

  • were then given a sliver of the former budget,

  • but they could spend the money in any way they chose.

  • And so one of the families went out for supper.

  • They went to McDonald's and they sat down and they talked and they listened

  • for the first time in a long time.

  • Another family asked the team

  • if they would help them do up their home.

  • And one mother took the money

  • and she used it as a float to start a social enterprise.

  • And in a really short space of time,

  • something new started to grow:

  • a relationship between the team and the workers.

  • And then some remarkable changes took place.

  • Maybe it's not surprising

  • that the journey for Ella has had some big steps backwards

  • as well as forwards.

  • But today, she's completed an IT training course,

  • she has her first paid job, her children are back in school,

  • and the neighbors,

  • who previously just hoped this family would be moved anywhere

  • except next door to them,

  • are fine.

  • They've made some new friendships.

  • And all the same people have been involved in this transformation --

  • same families, same workers.

  • But the relationship between them has been supported to change.

  • So I'm telling you about Ella because I think that relationships

  • are the critical resource we have

  • in solving some of these intractable problems.

  • But today, our relationships are all but written off

  • by our politics, our social policies, our welfare institutions.

  • And I've learned that this really has to change.

  • So what do I mean by relationships?

  • I'm talking about the simple human bonds between us,

  • a kind of authentic sense of connection, of belonging,

  • the bonds that make us happy, that support us to change,

  • to be brave like Ella and try something new.

  • And, you know, it's no accident

  • that those who run and work in the institutions

  • that are supposed to support Ella and her family

  • don't talk about relationships,

  • because relationships are expressly designed out of a welfare model

  • that was drawn up in Britain and exported around the world.

  • The contemporaries of William Beveridge,

  • who was the architect of the first welfare state

  • and the author of the Beveridge Report,

  • had little faith in what they called the average sensual or emotional man.

  • Instead, they trusted this idea of the impersonal system

  • and the bureaucrat who would be detached and work in this system.

  • And the impact of Beveridge

  • on the way the modern state sees social issues

  • just can't be underestimated.

  • The Beveridge Report sold over 100,000 copies

  • in the first weeks of publication alone.

  • People queued in the rain on a November night to get hold of a copy,

  • and it was read across the country, across the colonies, across Europe,

  • across the United States of America,

  • and it had this huge impact

  • on the way that welfare states were designed around the globe.

  • The cultures, the bureaucracies, the institutions -- they are global,

  • and they've come to seem like common sense.

  • They've become so ingrained in us,

  • that actually we don't even see them anymore.

  • And I think it's really important to say that in the 20th century,

  • they were remarkably successful, these institutions.

  • They led to longer lifespans, the eradication of mass disease,

  • mass housing, almost universal education.

  • But at the same time,

  • Beveridge sowed the seeds of today's challenges.

  • So let me tell you a second story.

  • What do you think today is a bigger killer than a lifetime of smoking?

  • It's loneliness.

  • According to government statistics, one person over 60 -- one in three --

  • doesn't speak to or see another person in a week.

  • One person in 10, that's 850,000 people,

  • doesn't speak to anyone else in a month.

  • And we're not the only people with this problem;

  • this problem touches the whole of the Western world.

  • And it's even more acute in countries like China,

  • where a process of rapid urbanization, mass migration, has left older people

  • alone in the villages.

  • And so the services that Beveridge designed and exported --

  • they can't address this kind of problem.

  • Loneliness is like a collective relational challenge,

  • and it can't be addressed by a traditional bureaucratic response.

  • So some years ago, wanting to understand this problem,

  • I started to work with a group of about 60 older people

  • in South London, where I live.

  • I went shopping, I played bingo,

  • but mainly I was just observing and listening.

  • I wanted to know what we could do differently.

  • And if you ask them, people tell you they want two things.

  • They want somebody to go up a ladder and change a light bulb,

  • or to be there when they come out of hospital.

  • They want on-demand, practical support.

  • And they want to have fun.

  • They want to go out, do interesting things with like-minded people,

  • and make friends like we've all made friends at every stage of our lives.

  • So we rented a phone line, hired a couple of handymen,

  • and started a service we called "Circle."

  • And Circle offers its local membership a toll-free 0 800 number

  • that they can call on demand for any support.

  • And people have called us for so many reasons.

  • They've called because their pets are unwell,

  • their DVD is broken, they've forgotten how to use their mobile phone,

  • or maybe they are coming out of hospital

  • and they want someone to be there.

  • And Circle also offers a rich social calendar --

  • knitting, darts, museum tours, hot air ballooning -- you name it.

  • But here's the interesting thing, the really deep change:

  • over time, the friendships that have formed

  • have begun to replace the practical offer.

  • So let me tell you about Belinda.

  • Belinda's a Circle member, and she was going into hospital for a hip operation,

  • so she called her local Circle to say they wouldn't see her for a bit.

  • And Damon, who runs the local Circle, calls her back and says, "How can I help?"

  • And Belinda says, "Oh no, I'm fine --

  • Jocelyn is doing the shopping, Tony's doing the gardening,

  • Melissa and Joe are going to come in and cook and chat."