Institute of Education


New project will explore role of voluntary action in welfare services

6 October 2017

A new project involving the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and led by Northumbria University will compare welfare services in England in the 1940s and 2010s, in order to assess the role of voluntary action in the provision of welfare services.

Mass observation archives

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Dr Georgina Brewis from the IOE will lead the historical aspect of the project and will work with academics from Northumbria University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Southampton and Sheffield Hallam University.

Speaking about the project, Dr Brewis said: “I am delighted to lead on the historical aspect of this work, which will contribute to an important reframing of the debate concerning the shifting relationship between state and the voluntary sector in England.

"Although a period of intense debate about the future place of voluntary action in welfare provision, the 1940s remain under-researched and resonate remarkably well with current developments. In addition, the research will make full use of new youth and childhood history collections recently acquired by the UCL Institute of Education Archive.”   

Irene Hardill, Professor of Public Policy at Northumbria University and Principal Investigator (PI) said:

“Our overarching aim is to explore the ways in which different groups of people – voluntary sector representatives, government officials, and the general public – think and talk about the role of voluntary action in the provision of social welfare, both in the 1940s and the 2010s.

“The publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942, and the subsequent establishment of comprehensive welfare services in the UK, was referred to by Beveridge as a ‘revolutionary moment’. The same term has been used to describe the current context in which welfare services are being restructured in England. The Beveridge Report’s proposals led to a period of intense debate on the relationship between state and voluntary action, and the extent to which voluntary services should or could step-in to provide support.”

Diaries archives

The researchers will examine a variety of contemporary and historical documents, including policy papers and publications from five voluntary sector case studies: the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO); Children England; Age UK; National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCYVS); and the youth charity Ambition.

To explore the state perspective, the team will examine Government green and white papers, speeches, parliamentary debates and acts of parliament from both decades. The views of the public will be obtained from the Mass Observation Archive, which was set up in 1937 to document the lives of ordinary people.

The two year project is being co-produced with NCVO, Children England, Age UK, Ambition and Mass Observation.

It is hoped that the final results will be used to build capabilities within the voluntary sector, influence policy, and reshape public debate.

Media contact

Rowan Walker
Email: rowan.walker@ucl.ac.uk
Tel: 0203 108 8515


Image: courtesy of Dr Georgina Brewis