An intellectual history of British social policy

Idealism versus non-idealism

By John Offer


Jan 18, 2006

Page count

232 pages




234 x 156 mm


Policy Press
An intellectual history of British social policy

The history of social policy is emerging as an area of growing interest to both students and researchers. This topical book charts the period from the 1830s to the present day, providing a fresh analysis of the relationship between social theory and social policy in the UK.

Drawing on recent historical research, the book:

· reconsiders and challenges many long-held beliefs about the 'evolution' of social policy;

· presents a wide-ranging reappraisal of links between social theories and changes in social policy;

· pays particular attention to the importance of idealist social thought as an intellectual framework for understanding the 'welfare state' ;

· has a distinctive focus on the importance of ideas in the history of social policy.

"John Offer's engaging and challenging book examines idealism in modern welfare. ... while [his] arguments are almost always judicious and well qualified, he seems to enjoy a flirtation with the bold. ... There is much to commend in this book." Twentieth Century British History

"Offer's account raises an important question about the relationship between the advocates of voluntary welfare and those of statutory provision." Social Policy

"John Offer's engaging and challenging book examines idealism in modern British welfare ... this is simply a good work on ideology and social policy ... It is often the case that existing personal opinions often find coherent form in a particular school of thought. Offer's qualified arguments and close readings never fail to miss this important point about ideas and social policy." Twentieth Century British History

"John Offer's challenging new book on the development of ideas about social policy in the nineteenth century will be essential reading for teachers, students and researchers with interests in the field of social welfare theory." Robert Pinker, Emeritus Professor of Social Administration, London School of Economics

John Offer is Professor of Social Theory and Policy in the School of Policy Studies at the University of Ulster, Coleraine. His main research interests are the history of ideas in respect of UK social policy, the social theory of Herbert Spencer, informal care and voluntary action, and the sociology of professional interventions in everyday social life.

Contents: Images of welfare: conceptual bearings; 'The most pressing of evils': outdoor relief, the Poor Law and social theory; Herbert Spencer, beneficiance and voluntaryism; Charity: the engine of social progress; 'A definite minimum of civilised life': Hobson, Hobhouse and the Webbs; Beveridge; Idealist thought, Titmuss and the new subject of social administration; Non-idealism resurgent: the rediscovery of informal care and welfare pluralism; New Labour and a new idealism: the state, voluntary action and the 'Third Way'; Conclusion.