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4th July 2011, 9:06am
Social Policy Association conference puts ‘big society’ under the spotlight
SPA logo The Social Policy Association (SPA) 2011 annual conference, which opens today at the University of Lincoln considers the proposition Bigger Societies, Smaller Governments? and sees the UK’s social policy big hitters put government thinking to the test.

The conference follows publication by the SPA in February 2011 of In Defence of Welfare – an analysis of the Coalition Government’s 2010 Spending Review that explored the likely impacts of reforms across a range of policy areas and argued for alternative approaches.

Building on the report, the conference theme lends itself easily to analyses of the translation of political imperative into policy, and the range of plenary speakers picks up on some of the big questions.  

Jan Pahl (University of Kent) will explore Tax policy, social policy and the Big Society, whilst Pete Alcock (Third Sector Research Centre and University of Birmingham), Karl Wilding (National Council for Volunteer Organisations) and Ruchir Shah (Scottish Council for Volunteer Organisations) will cover ‘The Big Society: A new direction for third sector policy in England? And as the Coalition Government and the Labour Party pursue their battle for the rights to voluntarism and communitarianism, MPs Roberta Blackman-Woods (Lab) and Jesse Norman (Con) lock horns in the ‘Big Society debate’.
The Big Society theme also runs through many of the 150+ conference presentations taking place during the three-day event, from academics and practitioners, with topics including:
• The social role of the public house in sustaining rural communities
• Evolving governance in the Big Society: self help and mutual aid approaches in social policy
• Collaborative endeavour and the Big Society: the importance of relationships
• Unlocking innovation in health and social care? An evaluation of the Social Enterprise Investment Fund
• Power to the People? The Big Society and community participation in local decision making.

The conference will also see presentation of the Association’s Annual Awards - sponsored by Cambridge University Press and Policy Press - by SPA President,  FT journalist Nick Timmins.  

The SPA promotes the study of social policy and advances the role of social policy research within policy making, practice and wider public debates. The majority of the Association’s members are teachers and researchers in social policy and applied social science within UK higher education, complemented by a significant and growing number of members from other European, Asian and Australasian countries.

In Defence of Welfare can be found at: (

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