Above all, I think the idea of citizenship should remain at the centre of modern political debates about social and economic arrangements. The concept of a citizen is that of a person who can hold [their] head high and participate fully and with dignity in the life of [their] society.

Jeremy Waldron in Liberal Rights

This observation was really important to me. I had been taught by Jeremy Waldron when I studied politically theory and especially social justice theory with him at Edinburgh. He was an impressive and challenging thinker. But I only read this in one of his books some years later – while working with people with learning difficulties.

At that point I had seen my role as about promoting citizenship and helping people take back control over their own lives. But what was powerful in Waldron’s observation was the realisation that the whole welfare state (although often to a lesser degree than the institutional models imposed on people with learning difficulties) tended to treat people, not as citizens, but as subjects.

We need to move away from models of public policy that treat citizens as if they were merely subjects – or as Aristotle would have it ‘slaves’. This demands change at every level – from constitutional foundations to the direct interface between citizens and professionals.