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Children and young people from across England are being supported to research, design and campaign for the welfare state they want.

We’re excited to launch the new phase of our ChildFair State Inquiry:  the creation of a new blueprint for the welfare state by a core team of 26 young leaders with input from two thousand children and young people. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, this is an ambitious and thoroughly youth-led project that will produce a vision for public services and communities that is genuinely owned and championed by the younger generation who can take it forward into reality.

Leaders Unlocked logoWorking with Leaders Unlocked, Children England is training 26 aspiring young Beveridges, helping them develop their own research plan to gather the views of children from as wide a range of experiences and situations as possible. With the expert facilitation of Leaders Unlocked the group will develop their insights and ideas into proposals for change.

At a summit next year, we’ll help the young leaders pitch their ideas to a sounding board of policy experts from a wide range of fields representing some of the existing child-centred policy and practice we encountered in phase 1 of our Inquiry. Through challenging debate and collaboration, we hope to forge common ground and help our young leaders develop a blueprint for policy change as radical as they feel it needs to be.

We then plan to support young people to become campaigners for discussion and action on their blueprint, holding a high-profile event with decision-makers and helping them develop the skills and resources they need to lobby at local and national level for endorsement of their vision.

This will be a huge journey for everyone involved – for the young individuals who want to start shaping the state they live in and become its future leaders; for the professionals who will hear what children want from their schools, hospitals, streets and housing developments; and for the welfare state, which is strangled by marketisation, managerialism and austerity and desperately needs a new direction.

We've had the first meeting of the Young Leaders and can confirm that they already have bold visions for improving public services. We'll soon be launching social media to keep you up to date with what the Young Leaders are doing, discussing and finding out, and letting you know if there are digital ways for children across England to contribute their views.


Children England is leading an inquiry into what the welfare state would look like if it recognised and supported all children's need for home, safety, love, health and purpose (a paraphrasing of Maslow's five needs).

ChildFair State tree diagram

Read our full case for redesigning the welfare state with children at heart

The diagram above shows how we see the 'branches' of the welfare state informed by a child-centred version of Maslow's five needs, and fed by the 'roots' of a sustainable economy and environment, and authentic democracy and human rights.

Our inquiry will involve testing the branches of the current welfare state to see how well they deliver on children's need for home, safety and security, love and belonging, health, and purpose - and how new policies and practices could be designed and structured to enable them to do this better. There are of course other branches of the welfare state (for instance childcare) that don't affect children's lives as comprehensively, and we're prepared to include any other branches that become important or even to invent any that become necessary! We've used 'neighbourhoods' to conceptualise the physical spaces where people live, work and play (as opposed to communities of people, which might not be geographically specific) as well as environmental factors such as air quality.

We believe the welfare state - in all its provisions - should holistically support the needs of ALL children, irrespective of their background, history or immigration status. 

What does each of Maslow's five needs mean for people today?

HOME means shelter but also:

  • Warmth
  • Food
  • Clean air
  • A sustainable planet

SAFETY and SECURITY mean safety from violence and war but also:

  • Protection from injustice (and access to justice and redress)
  • Protection from abuse and discrimination
  • Being able to count on the things you need every day
  • Security of employment and income
  • Security of housing and tenancy

LOVE and BELONGING mean having a caring family around you (whoever it's made up of) but also:

  • Being part of various communities where you feel equal and valued, such as your neighbourhood, school or faith group
  • Being able to choose which groups you do and don't belong to, rather than being made to identify as or participate in a certain group 
  • Being treated with unconditional positive regard by any system or institution you're affected by, with your human rights respected

HEALTH means enjoying good physical health but also:

  • Being able to enjoy and develop your own optimal physical and mental health
  • Having your mental and emotional health treated as equally important as your physical health
  • Having your whole wellbeing as a person recognised and supported by the health system

PURPOSE means being able to do the job you want but also:

  • Having the freedom to develop your idea of yourself and your skills and interests
  • Having a meaningful and rewarding job or role in society
  • Understanding how you and your role relate to others in a positive way

What does this mean for the welfare state?

To flourish, each of us relies on all five needs being met at all times, whatever our age or status. This means that we need to be seen as a whole person by the systems we interact with, so that they support all our needs and don't undermine any of them inadvertently. This, clearly, has implications for current welfare systems and services that can only see a person as 'unemployed', for example, without understanding their mental health, or that can only treat someone's physical disease without influencing the poor conditions in which they're housed. The interdependence of Maslow's five needs is increasingly apparent as the welfare state fails to address them holistically:

A child who goes to school hungry will struggle to learn successfully at school.

A young person who is sofa-surfing because there is no affordable housing in their area will struggle to do well at their job.

A woman whose income is very low might decide not to leave an abusive partner because she can't afford to support herself and her children on her own wage.

An older man who has had a complicated operation is less likely to recover swiftly if he doesn't have a warm home to go to and caring people nearby after he's discharged from hospital. 

Maslow's framework also rejects the assumption of conditionality - that a condition or incentive should be attached to state support because the individual who needs it has chosen to behave as they are (or is ignorant of a better way to behave) and must be compelled to change that behaviour. Whether it's a little girl who doesn't share her crisps with school friends because her family can't afford to feed her enough, or a young man who isn't working because he can't find a job that leaves him time to see his baby, it's clear that people cannot make the 'right' choices when some of their most fundamental needs are going unmet. And that applies to all of us each day - not just the youngest or most vulnerable: it's why we make worse decisions when we haven't slept well and we struggle to concentrate if we're hungry.

Atif Shafique at the RSA has explained brilliantly why conditionality in social policy doesn't work.

The welfare state, intended to enable everyone to reach a decent standard of living and to support people at any vulnerable time in their life, must therefore support families if it is to support their children. It cannot punish parents without adversely affecting their children, and cannot leave adults in poverty whilst expecting targeted policies to protect their dependent children. 

A re-designed welfare state must see the whole child and the whole family; must enable professionals to do the same; and must address the basic needs of the family before making decisions about what their further needs and entitlements will be.

We are gathering ideas from policy and practice

There are plenty of ideas - some already being tested in the UK and beyond - for services and systems built holistically on people's needs. We'd like to hear from individuals and organisations with experience or expertise in any branch of the welfare state to share examples of what's working, what's not and which new ideas we should explore. They don't need to be directly aimed at children to provide a useful model to work from, for example:

  • The Buurtzorg community nurse model in the Netherlands, in which self-managing teams of 12 nurses have 'professional freedom with responsibility', taking their own referrals and building up relationships with their clients so they can plan bespoke support that involves the client's own informal and formal networks. 
  • Great Yarmouth council has hugely reduced housing problems in the area by removing its 'choice-based lettings' system, its forms and long waiting lists for people who need homes, and simply enabled housing teams to respond to each person or family according to their needs at the time they got in touch.
  • There are various trials of Universal Basic Income (described in two articles by Camilla Harris for us). Whilst none has so far been evaluated to show a model that delivers perfect results, and it's by no means an economic panacea for families, its potential for empowering families and mitigating the challenges of employment seems extremely worthy of exploration.
  • Communities in Zimbabwe have networks of 'aunties' - older women who befriend and advise younger women struggling with relationship issues, anxiety or depression, for example, and help them address these before they escalate.

Examples that fail to meet human needs and even cause greater need, on the other hand, include:

  • The 11+ (and other tests) that categorised children early on in their lives and determined their path through education, often leaving them feeling permanently defined by their success or failure in that single test.
  • Practices at Job Centre Plus, which young job seekers have found so stressful that their mental health has been affected


We've been bowled over by the generosity of everyone who’s given and pledged at such a tough financial time for so many, and we’re excited to start planning the first phase of the inquiry while doubling our efforts to raise even more to make the ChildFair State Inquiry as big, bold and engaging as we possibly can. If you or someone you know can make a donation to help us develop the scope of the Inquiry, you can still read about the Appeal and make a donation online.