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A Chicken I once knew agrees with Hilary Cottam
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I have just come across Hilary Cottam’s highly recommended book,  Radical Help: how we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionize the Welfare State  (2018).  It needs revolution, not abandonment.  Regimentizing  people into systems of supposedly efficient provision does not make for their flourishing, because it does not build on the realities of real, idiosyncratic human beings.   Caged lions forget how to hunt because they don’t need to.  They lose capability. 

They are like a chicken I knew in the early 1970s.   One windy day, we saw high up in our willow tree, a chicken hanging on to a thrashing branch.  We enticed it down with some food and built a house for this new friend for our children.  It would come out late in the morning, peck the food provided, and go back into its house early afternoon.  Then one day a young man knocked on the door and asked if we had a chicken.  He thought it was one of his – he kept many a few roads away.  We were afraid he would ask for his bird back, but that was not his idea.  It was not good for a chicken to be on its own, so he would give us a companion for it.  Our chicken’s daily routine was revolutionized:  she got up early and stayed out late.  Capability was revolutionized by relationship.   The chicken agreed with Cottam.  And we learnt that our provision for the bird, although loving, was bound to disable it.   Only another chicken could give it the zest for life which is the root of capability.   

 A Welfare system will disappoint, if it aims to provide for people from above, rather than working with people from the ground up.   Their initiative in identifying and what they need to flourish is to be expected, and respected.     ‘Help me to help myself’ (page 146).   Not capability alone, and not relationship supplanting capability, but the synergy of both.   

Written by Haddon Willmer

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