Charity work turns full circle to fill holes in ‘shabby’ welfare nets

By Jane Lewis.

Edward Elgar Publishing


ISBN 1 85898 188 3

It is often by tracing a single thread of social policy that the
wider skein can be seen. Jane Lewis’ very readable book examines
the origins and history of the Charity Organisation Society in
1869, its transformation into the Family Welfare Association in
1946 and its adaptation to today’s culture.

As such, it is not only about the changing relationship between
voluntary organisations and the state in Britain, but also a
history of social work.

In many ways the wheel has come full circle. The part played by
voluntary organisations in the late 19th century and early 20th
century was vital and, as late as 1911, the gross receipts of
registered charities exceeded public expenditure on the Poor

In its earliest days, the society was very much an instrument of
the state, attracting the epithet ‘cringe or starve’ by the
disgruntled recipients of charity hand outs. It deliberately set
out to co-operate with boards of guardians at a local level, in
order to prevent pauperism. With the abolition of the Poor Law
which did not happen until as late as 1948 the newly established
Family Welfare Association gradually became a firm advocate of
emerging casework.

Indeed, in the midst of the rise of the state, and in particular
local authority provision, the association sometimes could be seen
as the keeper of a personal casework faith, giving evidence to the
Barclay Committee on its continuing importance.

Now, as the state contracts again, in both senses, the
association has the opportunity of becoming a key provider filling
holes in shabby welfare nets.

Where the book is particularly successful is in tracing the
development of the charity against a steadily changing backcloth.
The conclusion that charities are even more concerned with the
management of uncertainty than they are about the management of
change is particularly true in relation to the association and its

Having previously been dwarfed by Seebohm departments, charities
are once more becoming major players in the direct provision of
services. It remains to be seen how far charities will manage yet
further uncertainty.

Chris Hanvey is director of the Thomas Coram Foundation
and co-editor (with Terry Philpot) of Practising Social

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