In Scotland and beyond, public services now share a common ambition: to tailor services to the needs of individuals. This report explores the potential for a further shift: from services that focus on the individual, to those that recognise the importance of people’s relationships with others.

Ties that Bind explores what this looks like in practice for the 24,000 families in Scotland facing multiple disadvantages, including low income, inadequate housing, worklessness and ill-health. It draws on discussions with parents from across Scotland, case study visits to successful public service projects and diaries kept by disadvantaged families. The report identifies the extent to which people rely not just on formal services, but also informal networks.

Relationships with friends and family can either drag people down, or provide an extra layer of resilience – helping people in ways and at times that statutory services cannot. Government’s first duty is to do no harm. Welfare policies which uproot people from their social networks should be avoided, while local authorities should make it easier for family members to live near one another. Family centres and social services, meanwhile, must earn the trust of the families that they work with. This is the difference between services based on compliance and disempowerment and those that really make the difference.