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The history of social policy is emerging as an area of growing interest to both students and researchers. This topical book charts the period from the 1830s to the present day, providing a fresh analysis of the relationship between social theory and social policy in the UK. Drawing on recent historical research, the book: reconsiders and challenges many long-held beliefs about the 'evolution' of social policy; presents a wide-ranging reappraisal of links between social theories and changes in social policy; pays particular attention to the importance of idealist social thought as an intellectual framework for understanding the 'welfare state'; has a distinctive focus on the importance of ideas in the history of social policy. Different ideas about the means and aims of social policy suggested by Individualists, Idealists and Fabian Socialists are examined in depth and their impacts on the world of social policy reassessed. Special consideration is given to the history of ideas in relation to informal care and voluntary action, as well as action by the state. This book provides a valuable framework that exposes many of the assumptions about the nature of 'welfare' and its future direction, making it important reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers in the field of social policy.