Welcome to the website for the ESRC-funded project ‘Discourses of Voluntary Action at Two Transformational Moments of the Welfare State, the 1940s and the 2010s’, 2017 to 2019.

The publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942, and the subsequent establishment of comprehensive welfare services in the UK, was referred to as ‘a revolutionary moment’. The same term has been used to describe the context in which welfare services have been and are still being significantly reshaped since 2010. At these two transformational moments, fundamental questions have been raised about who is responsible for the provision of welfare services.  The study has explored the debates that have taken place on the role, position and contribution of voluntary action in the provision of welfare in the 1940s and 2010s. It has compared and contrasted public, political and voluntary sector discourses. The research will contribute to new understandings of voluntary action and to practical action for third sector organisations and policy makers.

Who is carrying out the research?

The research is being undertaken by a team of researchers from five different universities. The team has extensive experience of research on voluntary action, contemporary and historical, as well as direct practical experience of third sector organisations. We are:

  • Irene Hardill, Northumbria University (Project lead)
  • Georgina Brewis, UCL
  • Angela Ellis Paine, University of Birmingham
  • Rose Lindsey, University of Southampton
  • Rob Macmillan, Sheffield Hallam University

The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant reference ES/N018249/1), and generously supported by our voluntary sector partner organisations (Age UK, UK Youth, Children England and NCVO) as well as Mass Observation.

What does the research aim to do?  

We have examined the debates that have taken place on the role, position and contribution of voluntary action in the provision of welfare over two time periods: 1940s and 2010s. Our research cuts across four fields of activity: voluntary movement, older people, youth and children. We have drawn on data from a range of different sources:

  • Public discourses:  Mass Observation data. The Mass Observation project was established in 1937, and has since observed and recorded reactions from the public to various issues, including perceptions of charity and the voluntary and community sector. We have analysed responses to ‘directives’ issued in the 1940s and in the 2010s, including a new directive commissioned by this study in 2018, which you can read here.
  • Political discourses: policy documents, speeches and parliamentary debates. We have analysed green and white papers, commissions and inquiries, acts of parliament, speeches, press releases and parliamentary debates. 
  • Voluntary sector discourses: key statements, policy documents, and publications. We focused on national umbrella organisations – NCVO, Age UK, Children England, UK Youth (including Ambition), and NCVYS. We have reviewed policy documents, annual reports, board minutes and other papers. We have also revisited the original papers of Lord Beveridge’s 1947-48 Voluntary Action Inquiry.

What will happen with the findings? 

The knowledge generated through this study has the potential to deliver impact through influencing the development of voluntary and community sector policy and practice and contributing to new understandings of the evolving relationship between voluntary action and the state. The overall findings of the research will be widely disseminated to academic audiences, policy-makers and practitioners in the third sector.