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Inaugural Lecture. 11 May 2000

Travels With Nanny, Destination Good Enough. A Personal / Intellectual Journey through the Welfare State

Fiona Williams, Professor of Social Policy, Director of the ESRC Research Group for the Study of Care, Vaues and the Future of Welfare, Dept. of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT.

Synopsis of Lecture

It has recently become political and academic orthodoxy to talk of welfare reforms as a choice between three types of welfare regime. The first is the the old paternalist social democratic post-war welfare state, represented by Old Labour; the second is an active and self-reliant welfare consumerism represented by new liberalism/ New Right; and the third is New Labour’s Third Way, with its emphasis on opportunities for paid work and responsibilities before rights. Fiona Williams’ ideas on the future of welfare are, however, driven much more by the voices and experiences of the grass-roots.

In her lecture she looks at how these experiences have been articulated by new political constituencies of welfare activists – groups organising around, for example, disability rights, or health needs, care needs, for gender and racial justice in education, or as users of maternity services or psychiatric services. She suggests that their voices are marked by a generality which centres upon claims for the realisation of personhood, for cultural respect, autonomy and dignity to be at the heart of welfare. Drawing upon her personal history as an academic and an activist she argues that these claims present an important part of the moral and political case for a new welfare society. She then elaborates four key principles for what she calls a ‘good-enough welfare society’ - autonomy, mutualism, inclusive diversity and voice, and discusses some of the issues raised by these – interdependence, care, bodily integrity, intimacy, identity, transnational welfare and democracy.



University Review Article:


What do parents and partners regard as ‘the proper thing’ to do in relation to the care of their children when they negotiate the demands of parenting with paid work? What principles do separated and divorced parents, their children and their kin bring to bring to bear in negotiating care across households? How far have parenting and partnering practices changed? What influences these practices and how diverse are they? How do we resolve the day-to-day moral dilemmas we face in our relationships of care and intimacy? Is there a common moral vocabulary we draw on?

These are some of the questions that the Research Group for the Study of Care, Values and the Future of Welfare in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds are exploring. The Research Group, known as ‘CAVA’, has been awarded a grant of over £1 million by the Economic and Social Research Council for a five year programme to run from October 1999-2004.

The Research Group is using the focus on parenting and partnering practices as a lens through which to examine significant changes in our social and cultural landscape and their implications for future social policies. These include changes in the areas of family practices and household structures, employment and paid working lives, and cultural and ethnic diversity.

When William Beveridge developed his plans for the post-war welfare state in the 1940s he did so assuming that certain areas of life were relatively fixed and secure: gender roles, marriage, steady male employment, moral and national boundaries. Beveridge might have overestimated the homogeneity of British society in the 1940s but he could not have predicted the social changes which followed and which comprehensively challenged the administrative, normative and cultural frame of post-war welfare citizenship.

The current welfare reforms taking place in the US, Britain and the rest of Europe are not simply the result of a changed economic and political climate, they also represent a response to social and cultural changes. They often involve, too, an attempt at the moral re-ordering of society. This was made explicit by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in his call in the summer of 1999 for a "new moral purpose" and a "new partnership between the Government and parents". It is precisely this area of morality that interests the Research Group for little intensive or extensive research exists which provides information on the values and moral frameworks which people draw on to negotiate the dilemmas of their daily levies as parents and partners. So how will they tackle the issue?

The research programme is organised into five interwoven strands led by Professor Fiona Williams (Director), Professor Carol Smart (Deputy Director), Professor Alan Deacon, Porfessor Sasha Roseneil and Dr Simon Duncan (of the University of Bradford), and supported by ten researchers from the Departments of Sociology and Social Policy, Law and Psychology. One of the strands is conducting in-depth qualitative research in four contrasting localities in Yorkshire and Lancashire. One project in this strand is examining how different generations in families negotiate caring responsibilities where there has been divorce or separation. A second asks how and why mothers of young children decide to enter the labour force. A third involves a study of family obligations and care networks transnational kinship networks, and a fourth project is focusing upon patterns of care, intimacy and obligations in single person households.

Another strand of the research is examining the issues and challenges around parenting and partnering raised by self-help and campaign groups and social movements, nationally and internationally. The international dimension is, meanwhile, being pursued through a series of international seminars drawing on the research of experts in the above areas from the US and Europe.

A final, and particularly innovative strand in the programme aims to build up a new normative framework to inform future social policies about family life. It will do this by taking the research findings back to the localities and discussing them with the people who were interviewed, local councillors, health and welfare professionals, trade unionists, voluntary groups, employers and media. Similar national feedback sessions will draw together views of policy-makers, politicians and representatives of relevant organisations. In this way, the Research Group hopes to answer the question of whether and how we can develop a common vocabulary of values to which also respects and diversity of practices and beliefs in the areas of care, intimacy and family life.

Fiona Williams 14th September 1999