In defence of “one size fits all” public services
Jamie Bartlett goes from 'one size fits all' to 'one size fits none'...
We’re all guilty of it. As a Demos researcher, I certainly am. As are many of my colleagues. And all the other think-tanks. And Gordon Brown, David Cameron, & Nick Clegg. Basically pretty much anyone involved in public policy work over the last 3 years, in fact. We have all argued for the end of “one size fits all” services.
The argument, roughly speaking, is this. The post-war welfare state was designed the principle on mass production. In health, education, policing, or whatever, the state, benefitting from huge economies of scale and determined to ensure we all got the same deal, produced standardized services for everyone. Today, that’s not good enough. People want and need personalized services that are tailored to their own needs and circumstances, not some top-down services delivered to them like a pizza.
You’ll be hard pushed to find a single soul these days who doesn’t agree with this account. And it’s all captured in the tidy soundbite – we need the end of one size fits all.
But read the sentence again. One size fits all. Think about it for a second.
Wouldn’t one size fits all be wonderful?! If we could produce one service that genuinely “fit all”, just imagine the possibilities. The state could mass produce goods that were appropriate for all of us, and on the cheap too. All our problems would be solved. The problem isn’t one size fits all. It is one size fits none, or one size fits some, which is what we have now.
Laziness in language like this is serious. Such metaphors produce unthinking dogma. Orwell put it perfectly in his 1946 essay “politics and the English language”, where he lamented the way in which “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness” was blunting political discourse.
As a result, he went on, we have “a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy… who has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.”
I hereby apologise for being a dummy.