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From the 1930s onwards Titmuss had positively embraced the ideas of R.H. Tawney. The alleged moral and psychological distortions engendered by, in Tawney’s phrase, the ‘Acquisitive Society’ continued to trouble Titmuss, as we saw in his critique of its later manifestation, the ‘Affluent Society’. Indeed, as David Marquand pointed out, on Tawney’s eightieth birthday in 1960, the latter was not only the ‘Prophet of Equality’, but could also claim to be the ‘first critic’ of the ‘Affluent Society’. Tawney had also played a part in Titmuss’s appointment to the LSE, where the two were briefly colleagues. An opportunity for Titmuss to repay his debt to the older man came in 1960, when he was instrumental in arranging Tawney’s birthday celebrations. In this chapter we look at the origins of this event before re-engaging with Titmuss’s reading of Tawney. This is done through, especially, an examination of the former’s ‘Introduction’ to a new edition of one of Tawney’s most famous works, originally published in 1931, Equality. As Ben Jackson notes, on first publication this was prominent among those inter-war era works which had an ‘agenda setting role’ for the political left. The 1930s saw the beginnings of Titmuss’s political activism, and it is more than plausible to see him as one of those who had signed up to the Tawney ‘agenda’. For Lawrence Goldman, meanwhile, and looking ahead to Titmuss’s own moment in the sun, Equality was among those books which ‘shaped post-Second World War Britain’. The chapter concludes with a return to one of Titmuss’s obsessions, occupational pensions, for him a prominent example of the operations of inequality in contemporary society.
Titmuss’s early life, unremarkable in many respects, has nonetheless been the subject of dispute. Shortly after his death Margaret Gowing, a friend with whom he had worked during the Second World War, produced an account of his life which has proved influential for how Titmuss has since been viewed. Gowing’s narrative remains important, and will be drawn upon in what follows. In certain respects, however, Gowing’s was a partial account which consolidated the by then standard view of Titmuss’s origins and career. Put simply, this stressed the deprivations of his childhood and youth, so throwing into sharp contrast his eventual place as Britain’s leading authority on social policy, an expert advising governments at home and abroad, and public intellectual. For instance, a sympathetic profile in The Observer in 1959 noted the challenges Titmuss’s family had faced, and how Titmuss himself claimed to have learned little at school, save an enduring love for cricket and football. A few years later, another newspaper article suggested that the origins of ‘The Poverty Lobby’ of the 1960s lay in the early hardships of one of its members, Titmuss. While colleagues such as Abel-Smith were middle class, and had come to socialism ‘by conviction’, Titmuss had reached this position ‘by experience’. The last point begs more questions than it answers, not least the nature of Titmuss’s political beliefs. In his application for the LSE chair in 1950 Titmuss said little of his formal education save that, ‘As the son of a farmer’, he had been sent to ‘a preparatory school in Bedfordshire which drew most of its pupils from farmers in the district’.
Titmuss’s working life was always a balance between what were, for him, the principal functions of higher education – teaching students and conducting and disseminating research – and engagement with the policy process. In his view, though, these activities were complementary, rather than existing in watertight containers. This chapter examines, first, the reception of his second collection of essays, Commitment to Welfare. Although based on existing writings, and subject to academic criticism, this book also had an explicitly educational function. Titmuss’s detailed, practical, contributions to the Finer Committee on One Parent Families is then described. This work was challenging and complex, raising a number of important questions about the aims and delivery of social services. Commitment to Welfare was published in 1968, in both Britain and the US. The American edition’s front cover posed two of the questions Titmuss had addressed: ‘What can be done about the fundamental inequities of our society?’ and ‘How can our social policies benefit all sections the population rather than increase the power of the few?’ The volume consisted of 21 pieces, and the essays, or the lectures from which they derived, are discussed at appropriate points in this volume. So here we examine why Titmuss brought out this collection, and the reaction to it. As he explained, while most of the pieces had been published, some were not easily available. Consequently, students had difficulty in locating them, while Titmuss’s secretary, the redoubtable Angela Vivian, was ‘sometimes over-strained by the flow of requests for offprints, typewritten copies and the like’.
In 1964, Titmuss and Abel-Smith appeared on the recently launched television channel, BBC2, in its series ‘Tuesday Term’. Aimed at sixth-form students, one strand, overseen by the LSE, concerned the social sciences. They spoke about Social Administration, defined as ‘the study of social needs and social services’. At university, it was taken by those wishing to work in the social services, or in government, who would perform better with an understanding of ‘how they fit into the wider picture’. Their field rested ‘heavily on history’, used comparative method, and studied official institutions and the charitable sector. But its ‘most searching questions’ were ‘philosophical’, and concerned the balance between individual and social responsibility. Social Administration’s ‘special contribution’ was the ‘collection and study of the relevant facts’, used to define various forms of need. The next step was to determine whether these needs had been met. In a democracy, universities had an important role in ‘ferreting out facts which may be uncomfortable for the government’, whose ministers may have made claims subsequently revealed as untrue. Three years later, Titmuss gave a speech entitled ‘Welfare State and Welfare Society’. But, he told his audience, that title had not been his choice. He was ‘no more enamoured today of the indefinable abstraction “The Welfare State” than I was some twenty years ago’ when ‘the term acquired an international as well as national popularity’. Such ‘Generalized slogans’ were intellectually stifling, led to moral complacency, and to a retreat into ‘our presumptive cosy British world of welfare’.
By the late 1950s, Titmuss had laid the foundations, intellectually and institutionally, of the field of Social Administration. This involved not just academic research and publication, but also engagement with the policy making process. None of this was unproblematic. Titmuss’s work took place in the context of the Conservative Party’s political dominance, with some of its more dynamic members laying out plans for a shift from universal to selective social services. Within his own department, Titmuss had prevailed in his struggle with Eileen Younghusband, but the process had been exhausting and demoralising. As to research, Abel-Smith was to record, in 1962, that the ‘funds channelled to us through the University are pathetically small and we can use them for little more than bibliographical research and pilot studies’ – hence the need for external funding. More positively, this chapter examines the origins and impact of two of Titmuss’s most famous works, Essays on ‘The Welfare State’, and The Irresponsible Society. The latter, in particular, reveals much of his state of mind in the late 1950s, especially in the wake of the Conservatives’ 1959 election victory. Titmuss’s first collection, Essays on ‘The Welfare State’, appeared in 1958. A second edition came out five years later, and included The Irresponsible Society. A third, posthumous, edition was published in 1976, and in his introduction Abel-Smith remarked that while the pieces were produced during Titmuss’s first decade at the LSE, ‘most of what he wrote then is still relevant to the study of social policy today’.
The last chapter examined Titmuss’s political activities in the 1930s and early 1940s. Demanding as these undoubtedly were, Titmuss also found time for other forms of social and political engagement. Among his early research interests were population, and population health. He was convinced, as were many others at this time, that Britain’s population was in decline, and that this promised problems for the future. Nonetheless, as Pat Thane puts it, Titmuss was ‘the most persistent, prolific, and one of the most immoderate demographic pessimists’ of the 1930s and beyond. We shall encounter this pessimism in this, and later, chapters. Titmuss was, further, concerned about population health, arguing that proper analysis of the rates of morbidity and mortality revealed significant class and regional disparities in health experience and outcomes. Such concerns led to membership of the Eugenics Society, his first major publication, and conclusions with serious implications, at least in his view, for Britain’s preparedness for what was, by the late 1930s, inevitable war. The Eugenics Society (originally the Eugenics Education Society) was founded in 1907. It was a small but influential body campaigning for greater attention to be paid to issues of heredity and population quality. Among its members in the 1930s and 1940s were William Beveridge, and his successor as LSE director from 1937, the social scientist Alexander Carr-Saunders. Titmuss was introduced to the society in 1937 by the LSE demographer and refugee from Nazi Germany Robert René Kuczynski, remaining a member until shortly before his death. Kuczynski, who had published alarming predictions about population decline in Western Europe, had favourably noted Titmuss’s statistical skills.