The 'social investment perspective' in social policy : a longue durée perspective

Smyth, Paul and Deeming, Christopher (2016) The 'social investment perspective' in social policy : a longue durée perspective. Social Policy and Administration, 50 (6). 673–690. ISSN 0144-5596 (

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The ‘social investment perspective’ arguably represents the very latest justification for social policy to guide the development of the economy and society in the twenty-first century. As yet, its history remains largely unexplored. This article aims to place it in a wider framework by exploring theoretical considerations over a longer timescale, drawing on early observations of founding social theorists on social investment including R. H. Tawney, some of the thinking of T. H. Marshall as well as the radical political economies of welfare in the 1970s and 80s. The article links emerging ideas about ‘social investment’ to earlier ‘productivist’ traditions within social policy which informed the development of Western industrial welfare states; and shows how the productivist focus had been lost by the 1980s and 1990s with a consequent narrowing of focus to the redistributive role of the tax and transfer system. A longue durée perspective brings into sharp focus the ‘rediscovery’ of the potential of ‘social investment’ social policy in the closing years of the 20th century, as welfare states began to adapt to the new social and economic conditions of the post-industrial era. Our aim is not to present a systematic history of social policy and economic thought. It is rather exploratory, seeking to show from some of the key thinkers and movements in the British tradition important contextual elements for understanding ‘social investment’ that appear to have been lost in social policy debates over recent decades.


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