Richard Titmuss (1907-1973)

Richard Titmuss was Professor of Social Administration at the LSE from 1950 until his death in 1973. He played an important role in establishing social policy and administration as scientific disciplines both in this country and internationally: his thinking and writing helped to shape the British Welfare State. He was also an influential teacher and adviser to the British Labour party and many governments abroad. His publications span such apparently diverse subjects as social class inequalities in health and disease; demography; income distribution and social change; the cost of the national health service; and the economic and moral aspects of blood donation.

Richard Titmuss was born in 1907, the second child of a farmer; he was brought up in the countryside and left school at 14 with no formal qualifications. He went to work in an office and then joined a large insurance company where he stayed for 16 years. During the evenings and weekends he pursued an interest in social topics through reading, debating and writing. His initial concerns were with such issues as insurance and the age structure of the population, migration, unemployment and re-armament, foreign policy and the peace movement.

Poverty and Population, his first book, was published in 1936. The focus of this was on the relationship between preventable death and poor diet as well as other environmental factors, but, in particular, the regional differences between the North and South. At the same time Titmuss began to be active in the British Eugenics Society, a politically wide-ranging group which worked to promote population improvement. Through this connection he first met Alexander Carr-Saunders, who in 1937 took over from William Beveridge as Director of the LSE.

During the war, Titmuss advised the Ministry of Economic Warfare on German vital and medical statistics, and extended his demographic work into the field of infant mortality with a volume called Birth, Poverty and Wealth (1943). In 1942 his work on the history of the second world war, with a group of historians, led to a path-breaking analysis of wartime social policy, Problems of Social Policy (1950). This demonstrated just how much could be accomplished by central government in redistributing resources equitably and it also vividly portrayed the revelations arising from the evacuation, when the middle classes had to learn more about how the other half actually lived.

Titmuss finally left the insurance world in order to work on Problems of Social Policy, moving to the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, where he combined his official work with firewatching in St Paul's Cathedral and growing vegetables on the family allotment in West London. Parents' Revolt (1942), a joint project with his wife, Kay Titmuss, took a pro-natalist (and somewhat imperialist) attitude to the declining birth rate. It was during these years that Titmuss worked with Marie Meinhardt on a series of classic papers on health inequalities which helped to found the subject of social medicine.

After the war Titmuss joined his friend and collaborator on the Social Medicine project, Jerry Morris, in establishing a Social Medicine Research Unit funded by the Medical Research Council. Shortly afterwards, Titmuss accepted the Chair in Social Administration at the LSE to head a department whose history went back to 1912. He thus moved into a field which was new to him: that of social work education. Under his tutelage, the department emerged as the largest and most influential of its kind in Europe, with an international reputation for the quality of its social administration teaching.

During his years at LSE, Richard Titmuss published seven books and many chapters and papers. Two of the books were collections of his articles and lectures: Essays on the Welfare State (1958) and Commitment to Welfare (1968). Two of the Essays were particularly widely read. In ¡§The Position of Women¡¨ Titmuss was one of the first to draw attention to the impact on family life, and on women themselves, of the changes that had occurred since the nineteenth century in their rights and social situation generally. His essay on ¡§The Social Division of Welfare¡¨ challenged accepted and narrow views of social policy. He argued that in order to consider who received welfare, of what kind, and for what sorts of need, a much wider perspective than government's limited definitions of social services had to be encompassed.

Commitment to Welfare covered a period when Titmuss's work expanded to include active involvement in a number of key government committees: The Community Relations Commission, established to improve what was then called "race relations"; The Royal Commission on Medical Education; and the Supplementary Benefits Commission (of which he was later Deputy Chairman). He celebrated the 50th anniversary of the department he chaired in a moving vignette, "Time Remembered", by recalling the decision, instigated by social reformer Sidney Webb, to found a department of social science at the LSE. During that time staff and students alike had, he said, persistently ignored the advice that poverty was not a proper subject for academic study and had shown an abiding concern for the human condition and the ethics of intervention in the lives of others.

The introduction to the second edition of Commitment to Welfare in 1976 was written by Brian Abel-Smith who took over Richard Titmuss's LSE Chair. Abel-Smith and Titmuss had collaborated in writing The Cost of the National Health Service (1956) which was the outcome of another government committee, the Guillebaud Committee, set up to inquire into the escalating cost of the NHS. Abel-Smith and Titmuss proved that the cost of the service per head was actually stationary and thus helped to save the NHS (for a time). Titmuss's  collaboration with Abel-Smith was matched by another, with Peter Townsend, who worked on poverty and health inequalities. Together the three were known, apocryphally, as the "holy trinity".¡¥

In Income Distribution and Social Change (1962) Titmuss got behind the official statistics of income and wealth and showed the more convincing reality of a greater, and widening, chasm between the social classes in their ability to command not only income but capital of various kinds. His last book The Gift Relationship (1970) (reissued by LSE Books in 1997) compared the efficiency and effectiveness of the commercial and non-commercial blood donation systems of the USA and the UK. The book rapidly became a bestseller in the USA and resulted in legislation to regulate the private market in blood. It articulated most clearly the moral philosophy behind all Titmuss's writing: the argument that a competitive, materialistic, acquisitive society based on hierarchies of power and privilege ignores at its peril the life-giving impulse towards altruism which is needed for welfare. Titmuss's work was unique in its capacity to span both quantitative and qualitative measures of experience; and in its argument that a proper understanding of society requires both a keen eye for statistical analysis and a sensitivity to the texture of human relationships.

 ¸ê®Æ¨Ó·½¡GThe Titmuss-Meinhardt Memorial Fund