Richard Titmuss arrived at LSE in 1950 as the School’s first Chair of Social Administration. Titmuss refocused LSE’s social policy provision towards engagement with what he termed the ‘welfare state’ and his efforts boosted the School’s reputation for academic social policy. His years of public engagement made him Britain’s leading authority on social policy and earned him a CBE in 1966. John Stewart explores Richard Titmuss at LSE and his contribution to British social policy.

In 1950 Richard Titmuss (1907-1973) took up the first Chair of Social Administration at LSE, where he remained for the rest of his career.[1]  Superficially this was a surprising appointment since he had no formal educational qualifications. But three factors explain his coming to the School. First, Titmuss was, and remained, extremely good at networking. In the 1930s, for instance, he had joined the Eugenics Society where he rubbed shoulders with prominent social scientists and academic leaders such as William Beveridge (LSE Director 1919-37) and Alexander Carr-Saunders (LSE Director 1937-57).  Second, in the late 1930s, although employed by an insurance company, Titmuss was nonetheless carrying out independent, and well-regarded, research. His particular interests were in what he saw as the threat to Britain’s future population growth and structure and the state of the population’s health. Third, in the early 1940s he was commissioned to write one of the official histories of the British experience on the ‘Home Front’ during the Second World War, Problems of Social Policy. This volume, which appeared in 1950, remains an invaluable source of data about the wartime social services while also setting out what Titmuss argued must be achieved by post-war social reconstruction. For him, this should be based on the British people’s wartime social solidarity and social cohesion.[2]

Richard Morris Titmuss, c1960s. Credit: LSE Library

Richard Morris Titmuss, c1960s. Credit: LSE Library

The department Titmuss took over was at that point primarily concerned with training social workers. Although he would defend social workers as front-line workers of the ‘welfare state’ his inaugural lecture, delivered in May 1951, made it clear that social work training was going to be subordinated to a scholarly and practical engagement with the emerging ‘welfare state’.[3] As far as Titmuss was concerned what had been put in place in the 1940s was a significant step forward for the social services and so for the British people. But it was as yet an incomplete project – hence Titmuss’s consistent practice of placing the phrase ‘welfare state’ between inverted commas.

Titmuss went on to build up his own, and his department’s, reputation. One means involved recruiting staff who shared his ambitions. These included Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend, both going on to have distinguished academic careers as well as being welfare activists and advisors.[4] But it was Titmuss’s own contribution which was largely responsible for LSE becoming Britain’s leading location for academic social policy. His written output was prodigious. In it, he insisted on a moral purpose to social policy to help bring about a more equal, socially cohesive society. Titmuss is especially noted for his promotion of altruism, notably in his last major book, The Gift Relationship. This compared blood collection for medical purposes in Britain and America and argued that the situation in the former, where reliance was placed on voluntary donation, was morally and even economically superior to that in the latter, where individuals in straitened economic circumstances might be forced to sell their blood to commercial organisations.[5]

Titmuss was also a public figure. Among the many official bodies on which he sat were the Royal Commission on Medical Education and the Committee on One-Parent Families (the Finer Committee). He was, too, a member of various Labour Party committees and advisor to the Labour governments of the latter half of the 1960s. Titmuss was made CBE in the 1966 New Years Honours List for his contribution to public life.

Department of Social Science and Administration, 1971. Credit: LSE Library

Department of Social Science and Administration, 1971. Credit: LSE Library

By the time of his death, from lung cancer, Titmuss was unquestionably the leading British authority on social policy, at least on the social democratic/liberal-left. What came to be called the ‘Titmuss paradigm’ embraced themes such as the need to end socio-economic and health inequalities; an understanding that private occupational pension schemes were as much ‘welfare’ as state-provided old age pensions; the belief that the ‘free market’ could not serve society’s social needs and ambitions; and a non-judgemental attitude to those seeking aid from the social services. Titmuss’s post-war career coincided with the era of the ‘classic’ welfare state and the associated ‘post-war consensus’. Given the breadth and moral purpose of his vision, Titmuss understandably continues to have his supporters and admirers.[6]  But his ideas were never uncontested and came under particular scrutiny in the last quarter of the twentieth century as neo-liberalism gained traction. The question then arises, what does Richard Titmuss have to say to us in the twenty-first century?

Contributed by Professor John Stewart who is writing the biography of Richard Titmuss, supported by the Brian Abel-Smith Foundation Fund, Department of Health Policy, LSE.

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[1] For the historical context, Ralf Dahrendorf, A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1895-1995, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.  Aspects of Titmuss’s life have been discussed by his daughter, Ann Oakley, in Man and Wife: Richard and Kay Titmuss: My Parents’ Early Years, London, HarperCollins, 1966; and idem., Father and Daughter: Patriarchy, Gender and Social Science, Bristol, Policy Press, 2014.

[2] RM Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy, London, HMSO, 1950

[3] RM Titmuss, ‘Social Administration in a Changing Society’, British Journal of Sociology, 2, 3, 1951, pp.183-97.

[4] Sally Sheard, The Passionate Economist: How Brian Abel-Smith Shaped Global Health and Social Welfare, Bristol, Policy Press, 2014; Howard Glennerster, ‘Peter Brereton Townsend’, Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 172, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, X, accessed online 29 June 2017.

[5] RM Titmuss, The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1970.

[6] See, for instance, H Glennerster, Richard Titmuss: Forty Years On, London, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE, 2014.