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US in Crises

Hilary Cottam: Social services are broken. How we can fix them

When a family falls into crisis — and it sometimes happens, thanks to unemployment, drugs, bad relationships and bad luck — the social services system is supposed to step in and help them get back on track. As Hilary Cottam shows, in the UK a typical family in crisis can be eligible for services from more than 70 different agencies, but it's unlikely that any one of them can really make a difference. Cottam, a social worker herself, asks us to think about the ways we solve deep and complex social problems. How can we build supportive, enthusiastic relationships between those in need and those that provide help?

Hilary Cottam wants to redesign the welfare state using the power of relationships.

In its current functioning, based on the ideas first put forth in Britain by Sir William Beveridge in 1942 and then adopted around the world, the welfare state expressly designs out people’s capabilities and relationships, focusing instead on impersonal systems and rules. Sixty years on, the welfare state is failing its purpose and leaving people behind.

Hilary Cottam believes that a solution can be found in putting relationships squarely in the middle of it, and she has the examples and stories to prove it.

Cottam's recent award winning work includes: new systems to support an ageing population; a prison that reduces re-offending; new approaches to chronic disease and unemployment.

She has advised governments, companies and third sector organisations in the UK and internationally. She was educated at Oxford, Sussex and the Open University. She was awarded her PhD in 1999. She currently lives and works in London.

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