Asked to identify the most influential books and articles in social policy, the lists of many social policy scholars would probably include Esping-Andersen's (1990) The three worlds of welfare capitalism. The elaboration of three ideal-typical ‘welfare regimes’ (liberal, conservative-corporatist and social democratic) has transformed the way we think about social policy and welfare states (Powell, 2016: 660). Yet, its theoretical architecture is built upon a curious omission. Remarkably, it says very little about the role of the third sector in social policy and welfare provision. The three worlds of welfare capitalism has no indexed references at all to the third sector or allied terms. The follow-up study, Social foundations of postindustrial economies (Esping-Andersen, 1999), is bereft of such concepts, with one exception. Here, a welfare regime is defined as ‘the combined, interdependent way in which welfare is produced and allocated between state, market, and family’ (Esping-Andersen, 1999: 35–6). The accompanying footnote (Esping-Andersen, 1999: 35, n 2) advises: ‘To this triad we should rightfully add the “third sector” or voluntary, or non-profit, welfare delivery. In some countries, the voluntary sector (often run by the Church) does play a meaningful, even significant, role in the administration and delivery of services’. It is noted that cross-national comparison of the third sector is rare, but Salamon and Anheier's (1998) analysis is cited – and that is it. On this basis, it would seem that the third sector in social policy is relegated to a footnote.
Further, Richard Titmuss is rightly regarded as one of the intellectual forces behind the development and expansion of social policy. He writes powerfully about altruism in The gift relationship (Titmuss, 1970), but, overall, he says very little about charitable or voluntary action. Reisman notes a comment made by Titmuss in a letter to a colleague in 1959: ‘The modern state needs, in addition to collective public services, a variety and diffusion of genuine voluntary agencies’ (Reisman, 2001: 64). However, that is pretty much it. Titmuss ‘admired voluntarism but had a preference for the State’ (Reisman, 2001: 66).