Thursday 24th May 2012 at 4.15pm




Sally Sheard, University of Liverpool

Health and Social Welfare Policy Development in the Twentieth Century – a Biographical Approach

Brian Abel-Smith (1926-1996) was one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century in shaping social welfare, commanding the attention and respect of governments worldwide.  Between 1953 and his death in 1996 he steered the development of health and social welfare programmes in over 80 countries. He helped the Mauritius government develop its first state welfare scheme in the 1960s, with a provocative approach to population control in this developing catholic country; in Kenya in the 1980s he challenged the dominant World Bank model of social welfare, proving the unhelpfulness of its ‘one size fits all’ strategy. In Europe he was a key WHO and EEC adviser, intimately involved in setting the agenda for the Health for All 2000 campaign. In Britain, Abel-Smith was one of the first saviours of the National Health Service: his research for the Guillebaud committee in 1956 proved that it provided extremely good value for money and deserved more investment, not the constant bickering about its cost and future. He forged a reputation as an indispensable expert – one of a new breed of special advisers in the 1960s – a pioneer in a radically different approach to policy formation, in which external experts, many from universities, supplanted civil servants as ministerial ‘right hand men’. This seminar will use Able-Smith as a case study for discussing the development of a more nuanced model of policy formation, which moves away from structural and path dependency theories, towards a greater appreciation of the role of the individual.

Dr Sally Sheard is Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics. Her recent publications include S. Sheard and L. Donaldson, The Nation’s Doctor: the role of the Chief Medical Officer, 1855-1998 (Oxford, Radcliffe Medical, 2005); M. Gorsky and S. Sheard (eds) Financing Medicine: the British experience since 1750 (Oxford, Routledge, 2006);  S. Sheard, ‘Quacks and Clerks: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Structure and Function of the British Medical Civil Service’, Social Policy & Administration 2010 44:2; 193–207. She is currently writing a biography of Brian Abel-Smith.