The Social State: From Transactional to Relational Public Services

Despite the easing of Covid-19 restrictions making it easier for people to interact with each other, our new report finds that people are less likely to make and build new relationships now than they were during the first lockdown.

The research, using a nationally representative poll of 1,000 UK adults, found that a third (32%) of people feel there are fewer opportunities to make new relationships with others now than there were during the first lockdown, while only a quarter (23%) said there were more opportunities. This suggests that as we come out of the crisis mode of the pandemic, the British public could be finding it harder to make new connections and not easier.

The report, sponsored by Capita, also found that Brits want to hold relationships with the providers of public services and other service users. An overwhelming majority wants to be able to get to know the people who provide their local services (71%) and other services users (64%).

The Social State is calling for a system of relational public services that can bring together local communities and make it easier for people to build relationships with other users, the community at large and people who provide the services. Relational public services can improve outcomes by giving citizens more control and confidence to resolve their problems.

This report is the first as part of a major new research programme at Demos reimagining public services. The project will build a credible policy agenda for 21st century public services with citizen experiences at the centre. Demos will be exploring in more depth three areas of public service: employment and back to work services, local government, and policing.

Polly Mackenzie, Chief Executive at Demos and author of The Social State, said:

“We have seen many challenges emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the challenge of running our public services one of the most difficult and recognisable. Yet throughout the pandemic, particularly during the first lockdown, we saw communities come together and relationships strengthened at a time of crisis, on a scale we haven’t seen in generations – from providing food for those isolating to the new volunteers making a huge difference in the NHS.

“They proved that strong relationships and community ties are not only hugely valuable for our wellbeing, but that they’re vital to our resilience and strength as a society. Our new research out today worryingly shows that these gains we’ve made in community relationships earlier in the pandemic are in danger of being lost. If we’re to build back stronger from the pandemic, we need to reimagine our public services for the 21st century as a way of strengthening our communities, relationships and social capital.”

Read the full report here.