Maslow’s to do list

David lives in a care home. It’s safe. Warm. Clean. David gets three meals a day. His clothes are washed and ironed. The home is clean. The staff are nice. A minibus comes to the door three times a week to take him to a day centre. The staff there are nice too. They give him things to do.

Staff like David. He’s no trouble.

His family are glad that he is somewhere safe.

His social worker has closed his case.

David’s world is about to change.

The council needs to close the care home where he lives; to save money.

The council needs to close the day centre David attends; to save money.

The council needs to stop paying for the minibus that takes David to the day centre; to save money.

It has been decided that David should move to a new supported living scheme being built by a housing association not far from the care home.

David’s mum is concerned. How will he cope? Will he be safe?

Staff at the home are concerned. They don’t see how David will cope with all the new things he’ll have to do for himself.

His social worker is concerned. She feels like this is all about saving money. She feels it is wrong for David to have to move.

What about David? David is nervous……..but he’s excited too.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow agreed that physiological things are important; food, water, sleep. He agreed that security is important too; security of body, of property, of health. Maslow studied what motivated human beings and how they grow. He described the pattern that human motivations generally move through in his hierarchy of needs.


The idea of placing these needs in some sort of hierarchy – a pyramid – with self-actualisation at the top – seems to make sense to us. But for some reason much of social policy has focussed almost exclusively on the bottom of the pyramid; on getting a roof over someone’s head and food in their belly.

Maslow never presented his ideas as a pyramid. He never imagined that it would be enough for someone to meet only their needs for safety, security, food and rest. He did think the physiological needs were the most important but he did not see the others as optional extras, ‘nice to haves,’ for a fortunate few.

He thought of the hierarchy more as a ‘to do list’.

“What a man can be, he must be” wrote Maslow in his book ‘Motivation and Personality’.

Self-actualisation is the desire to accomplish everything that one can.

To achieve one’s potential.

To become the best that one can be.

So what happened to David?


Well he went to have a look at the flat in the supported living scheme. He liked it. He liked the people he met. He was asked what he wanted from life? What sort of things he hoped to do once he’d moved in? What he was looking forward to?

No-one had ever asked him questions like this before.

He said he wanted to go shopping; to go on a proper bus; to invite his mum round to his flat and to make her a cup of tea. He wanted to choose what colour his bedroom was painted and what time he got up in the morning.

With a lot of planning and support David moved in.

Now he has his own front door.

He has his own kitchen…..his own bathroom….his own place.

He has a tenancy agreement – which he understands gives him rights.

He walks to the shops and buys bread, milk and other things he needs.

With the help of his support worker he has been learning to cook.

He cleans his flat. He washes his clothes.

His mum comes round every Thursday and David makes her tea.

The day centre closed but David gets a bus….a proper bus…and goes to a Community Hub where he has made lots of new friends and tried loads of new things….that he has chosen to do.

Sometimes he meets one of his new friends and they go to the pub.

David is thriving.


“Do you miss the home where you used to live David?”


“Do you like living in your flat?”


“What do you like most?”

“It’s my place; my home. I can choose what I do; it’s my choice. I like trying new things. I like thinking about my future. It’s exciting!”


2 responses to “Maslow’s to do list

  1. the application of Maslow’s theory on this scenario is brilliant. I like most when you actually enlighten your readership that Maslow did not intend to regard the top end of achievements as optional extras, rather as the next steps. I never thought that way before, despite having studied Maslow severally in my psychology, business management and bits of social philosophy.

    Brilliant case study, John.


    • Thanks Oscar.
      I really appreciate your comments. Funnily enough I was at a meeting just last week with some people from a large local authority who seemed quite content to see the role of their service simply to think about the bottom layer of Maslow’s triangle as if for some people that was really all that mattered.


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