Social policy has its roots in the department of Social Science and Administration which was founded in 1912, the fruit of a marriage between a school for social workers and a poverty research unit financed by an Indian millionaire.
The preceding two decades had seen an explosion of public interest in questions of social theory and social policy. Major changes had occurred in the administration of the poor law, in provision of new social services, and in the scope and variety of voluntary institutions. Poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, bad housing and other social problems were increasingly seen as diseases of the body politic and not just misfortunes for the individual. The foundation of LSE itself in 1896 was an important symptom of these new currents of thought, and of optimistic hopes about their relevance to practical problems.
The Charity Organisation Society's School of Sociology, which had been training social workers in the theoretical implications of their calling, was absorbed into LSE's new department of Social Science and Administration after Ratan Tata, a wealthy industrialist, agreed to fund a research unit to investigate methods of preventing and relieving poverty and destitution. His offer to fund a similar project in his native India had been declined for political reasons.
The department's first head was Professor E.J. Urwick, a founder member and vice-president of the Sociological Society. He almost certainly recruited R.H. Tawney and together they became the two key figures who both reflected and determined the character of the Social Administration department until the advent of T.H. Marshall after the end of the Second World War, followed by Richard Titmuss in 1950.
The department became one of the most important influences in establishing social policy and administration as a field of study in British universities, particularly in the quarter of a century between 1945 and 1970. The influence of Titmuss, who held the Chair in Social Administration from 1950 to 1973, may perhaps be compared to that of Keynes in economics or Popper in social philosophy. Titmuss gave the subject academic visibility and wide social relevance at a time when the School was influencing most of the social policies of the 1960s and 1970s in Britain.
The subject has changed radically in the last 30 years, exploding its original boundaries, both intellectual and geographical.
LSE social policy academics are continually involved in policy debate and in advising local, national and international organisations - governmental and non-governmental. Former students fill senior policy-related and academic positions in countries around the world.
See Academic Departments and Research Centres indexes.