Care – what is and what could be

Nov 3, 2021

Our carers and the care system that employs them are at the forefront of an opportunity for change but change is not enough.
We need a transformation.

We need to see new possibilities emerge and, for that, we need a new perspective and an open-minded, whole-hearted debate.

While we know that the people who are employed in the caring professions are amongst the most caring, committed and courageous individuals in society, we are, only now, waking up to the fact that they have been working unacknowledged, unheard and undervalued for many years.

Clapping for carers was a lovely gesture. Thank you cards, flowers and boxes of chocolate were tokens of appreciation at an individual level. But no amount of claps, cards, chocolate and flowers will pay the bills, create time for a family life, or allow someone to take care of their own physical health or emotional wellbeing.

In A Radical New Vision for Social Care Dr Hilary Cottam OBE delivers an uplifting, intellectual and inspiring account of what currently is and what potentially could be.

What is

“Aristotle argued that we need support to grow and develop and we need a sense of meaning; of our place in the world.”


“In 2017, in a surprise TED talk watched by 3.5 million people, Pope Francis addressed the ways in which our futures are deeply connected and dependent on one another. ‘I become an I, through a you,’ the Pope declared. His words echoed the writings of the German philosopher Martin Buber, whose 1920s treatise I and Thou describes the way that we become human through our relationships with and care for each other and the natural world around us.


In the West this understanding of human flourishing has gradually unravelled. Our implicit understanding of human thriving as a collective endeavour in which caring (and our need to draw on support) plays a central role, was replaced by a utilitarian model perhaps best characterised by that rapscallion homo economicus – the individual who reimagining: becoming an ‘I’ through a ‘you’ realises himself through a ruthless quest to maximise individual material gain.”


“Caring in this utilitarian model would be outsourced, placed elsewhere, out of sight. If we could find a way for others to take on this messy business, so this logic runs, then that is the route to wellbeing.”


Dr Hilary Cottam OBE

What could be

The conversation about the future of care – and indeed the future in general – is taking on an ontological flavour. The pandemic has accelerated the transformation of the discourse Let’s talk more about what can be done differently.

Rather than list my own thoughts, hopes and dreams, I invite you to reflect for a few moments.

When care is at its best: when people feel both caring and cared for as need or opportunity arises, what meanings are we bringing to the word ‘care’?

If we look a year, three years, five years, into the future what is our transformed understanding of, and relationship with, care?

What potential is being realised?

What else is possible?


To return to the words of Dr, Cottam

“If we are to make a transition to the restorative green economy that will ensure humanity’s future and is longed for by many, then the work of care and of maintenance – of each other and the wider webs of life of which we are part – will be a core and respected activity. We have to design this role in such a way that thousands can embrace 26 A radical new vision for social care the work, not because they have to but because they want to: because it provides a good income and time for a good life, because it is honoured. This means moving from data that tell us about the costs of care to new forms of accounting that reveal the impact of the investment in care.”

Let’s talk

Change happens when people share ideas. Transformations happen when each of us becomes the person we need to be in order for something new to happen.

Let’s talk more about what can be done differently.

Join our webinar NO GOING BACK Thursday 4th November 11.30am



Cottam H. A radical new vision for social care: how to reimagine and redesign support systems for this century. The Health Foundation; 2021 (