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Baroness Ruth Lister CBE: oration

Read Professor Jane Millar's oration on Baroness Ruth Lister CBE for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in June 2014.


Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett CBE, is one of the UK’s leading social scientists, with an international reputation for her influential research on the definition, extent and experience of poverty in modern rich societies.

But Ruth Lister is not only a leading academic. Her distinguished career also includes applying that research to make a difference in the world.

Ruth’s career reflects this combination of research and action. She studied sociology at the University of Essex and multi-racial studies at Sussex. In 1971 she became a researcher at the Child Poverty Action Group, the UK’s leading charity committed to ending poverty among children and families. She was appointed CPAG Director in 1979 and remained there until 1987, playing a key role in the important debates about the nature of poverty and the role and obligations of government during the Thatcher government years. Ruth then moved to the University of Bradford and, in 1994, to Loughborough University, where she is still Emeritus Professor of Social Policy. In 2011 she was appointed to the House of Lords as a Labour Life Peer.

But that brief outline only gives a small glimpse of Ruth’s contribution to academic research and to public life. As a professor of social policy, she has published widely on issues of poverty and social exclusion, welfare state reform, gender and citizenship. Her books include Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives (2003); Poverty (2004); and Understanding Theories and Concepts in Social Policy (2010). These books are important contributions to the social sciences, exploring how people living in poverty are excluded from full citizenship and treated as the ‘other’, somehow different from the rest of society.

At the same time Ruth has been at the centre of all the key public debates on poverty and policy in recent years, including membership of the Commission on Social Justice (1992-94), the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty (2004-2006), and the National Equality Panel (2008-2010). She is currently a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and is Honorary President of the Child Poverty Action Group.

All this means that Ruth writes and speaks on poverty with unique authority reflecting the knowledge, experience and reflection gained through these different roles. As a member of the House of Lords, Ruth is currently a leading voice in important debates about how to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society during a period of unprecedented austerity and reductions in state support.

Her research and policy contribution has been recognised in many ways, including becoming Commander of the British Empire in 1999 and Fellow of the British Academy in 2009. She holds several honorary degrees, including from the Universities of Manchester and Essex. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Social Policy Association in 2010.

Ruth’s work has a strong resonance at the University of Bath. We have a substantial social policy department here, and I know I speak for my social policy colleagues, and myself personally, when I say how much we have learnt from Ruth’s work. But not only in social policy, more widely as a University community we are committed to carrying out original research and using that research to make a difference in the world, and to educating our students to be not just knowledgeable about their subject but also thoughtful about how to use that knowledge for the public good. This applies across all our disciplines. Ruth is a rigorous academic who has been steadfast in her commitment to social justice. In that respect, she is a role model, and an inspiring example, to us all.

Chancellor, I present to you Baroness Ruth Lister, who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Professor Jane Millar

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