Culture Change in Society

It was highlighted in the news recently that benefit cuts are to be considered in order to change the ‘culture of entitlement’.  Assuming good intent is at the heart of such policy change, one can only conclude that the thinking is that culture can be ‘improved’ by taking money away from people. An interesting concept – I think it is called carrot and stick, without the carrot. Culture may well shift, but will it improve?

I have spent some time recently working with Council teams who try to help homeless people and act as the conduit to support for both social housing and private sector rented market. Many of their customers are receiving benefit of some kind.

I have been struck many times by the diverse nature of requests for help, which turn up at their door every day. Policy and procedure underpins much of what can and cannot be done, but the key trick (it seems to me), is for the helper to identify the root cause of the problem, then identify and agree what they, and the customer, can do about it. Sounds simple if you say it quickly.

In practice, people are rarely straightforward and the presentation “I have a problem, please help me” varies enormously.  Some help is nothing more than a conversation with a landlord to address a repair issue or support in tenancy management.  Some customers have genuinely hit the buffers and, fleeing domestic violence for example, desperately need somewhere safe to live at short notice before they put their lives back together (often with ongoing help and support from many other agencies, both Council and third party).

Then there are the more challenging customers who genuinely need help because they are about to lose their home, but losing their home is sometimes a symptom of deeper problems.  These vary from mental health issues to substance missuse, and providing the keys to a new front door is merely a sticking plaster on the root cause problem.  I recall one council officer telling me that it would be a great idea to engage with colleagues from education and talk to schools.  Specifically, to talk to young girls and by explaining some facts, to change the culture of teenage pregnancy being seen as a door to a home of their own.

So, changing policy on benefit entitlement as a mechanism for shifting culture…  I believe that policy change has a key place, but without judging the merits (or otherwise) of this proposal, I don’t think it is anywhere near adequate on its own to really improve culture.

Jaime Beckett, Organisational Change Principle Practitioner (07764 635 472 / jaime.beckett@icecreates.com)

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