Transformational Moments in Social Welfare: What role for voluntary action?

Published open access by Policy Press on 14 September 2021. During the consolidation of the welfare state in the 1940s, and its reshaping in the 2010s, the boundaries between the state, voluntary action, the family and the market were called into question. This interdisciplinary book explores the impact of these ‘transformational moments’ on the role, position and contribution of voluntary action to social welfare. It considers how different narratives have been constructed, articulated and contested by public, political and voluntary sector actors, making comparisons within and across the 1940s and 2010s. With a unique analysis of recent and historical material, this important book illuminates contemporary debates about voluntary action and welfare.

Recorded talks

Voluntary action, the state and welfare: GMCVO Academic Perspectives Lecture, 27 September 2021

‘It’s time to talk: Voluntary action, the state and social welfare’, Policy seminar in association with History and Policy, held on 12 October 2020

Watch below a 25 minute presentation of our key findings, recorded in October 2020.


The Voluntary Movement 80 Years Ago – Insights from the Discourses of Voluntary Action Project, Presentation at the Redbridge CAB Annual General Meeting, 13 November 2019.

Older people, voluntary action and the welfare state: Looking back and looking ahead, 25 July 2019 – Interactive workshop to be delivered to Age UK.

Youth, voluntary action and the welfare state: Looking back and looking ahead, 4 July 2019 – Interactive workshop delivered to UK Youth’s Strategy and Innovation Group, including representatives from a range of organisations working with young people. Read our presentation.

Back to the future: What next for voluntary action and the welfare state? 2 July 2019 Our end-of-project conference attended by 75 people at Friends House. Read our blog about the event, and read the presentation slides here.

Talking about voluntary action and the welfare state: Historical reflections, current debates, 30 April – We shared our emerging findings with people from across the voluntary, community and public sectors. We asked participants to challenge and question our findings, to extend our thinking, and to help us to work through the implications. This highly interactive workshop helped informed our final stages of analysis. See the presentation here.

Children England, voluntary action and the welfare state: Looking back and looking ahead, 23 April 2019 – Interactive workshop delivered to Children England’s Trustee Board and staff members

Discourses of Voluntary Action: North East Local Authorities Workshop, 29 April 2019, Gateshead Civic Centre – Policy workshop with representatives of local authorities in the North East of England examined the local impact of national policy developments in the 2010s and how this affected who delivers social welfare services. In particular, the workshop considered the relationship between local government and the voluntary and community sector in a context of austerity and unprecedented cuts in local authority budgets. See the slides here.

NCVO, voluntary action and the welfare state: Looking back and looking ahead, 18 March 2019 – Interactive workshop delivered to NCVO’s Trustee Board and staff members.

Discourses of Voluntary Action, Ageing and Welfare in the 1940s and 2010s, 27 November 2018, Bewick’s, Gateshead Civic Centre – workshop with older people organised in conjunction with Age UK and Gateshead Council.

Voluntary organsiations’ archives and records, 17 September 2018, The Keep, University of Sussex, Brighton – workshop delivered in partnership with Mass Observation and the British Academy Research Project ‘Archiving the Mixed Economy of Welfare‘. It raised awareness of the importance of archives and offered practical advice on preservation.

Short publications

Post-war voluntary action helped rebuild Britain – could it happen again after coronavirus?, The Conversation, June 2020.

It’s Time to Talk: Voluntary action, the state and welfare provision (November 2019) 8 page research briefing.

An end to ‘want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness’: why the Beveridge report flew off the shelves in 1942, The Conversation, 30 November 2017.

Academic presentations

‘Moving frontiers: Voluntary action and social welfare’, Civil society in the four UK nations: past, present and future challenges, VSSN Day Seminar, 28th November 2019.

‘Moving frontiers? Exploring the changing role and position(ing) of voluntary action in youth and older people’s welfare services’, Volunteering and Voluntary Sector Research Conference, Aston University, 10-11 September 2019.

‘The left and voluntary action in England: Debates in the 1940s and 2010s’, Social Policy Association Annual Conference, Durham University, 9 July 2019. Download the presentation.

‘Old Age in the New World? Older people’s welfare and voluntary action during two transformational moments’, Voluntary Action History Society Study Day on Older People, 15 June 2019

‘Co-producing knowledge through archival engagements: Reflections on the UK Discourses of Voluntary Action project’, paper presented as part of ‘Archives and Geography: Knowledge, Politics, Ethics’, American Association of Geographers Conference, Washington DC, April 2019. See the presentation here.

‘”As cold as charity”? Using Mass Observation panel-writing to compare public views on the role of voluntary action in welfare provision in the 1940s and the 2010s’, British Sociological Association, April 2019

‘Discourses of voluntary action at two ‘transformational moments’ of the welfare state, the 1940s and the 2010s’, Panel presentation at Annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference (NCVO/VSSN), London, 6 September 2018

‘Discourses of voluntary action: Comparing narratives at two transformational moments of the English welfare state’, ISTR COnference, Amsterdam, 10-13 July 2018

‘Voluntary action and the state: Debates within England’s voluntary organisations in the 1940s’, European Social Science History Conference , Belfast, 6 April 2018

‘Understanding voluntary action through 80 years of Mass Observation data’, Panel for Mass Observation 80th Anniversary Conference, University of Sussex, 10 July 2017