Professor Sally Baldwin

Social scientist passionately committed to rigorous, impartial research
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Sarah Marie Kilday (Sally Baldwin), social scientist: born Coatbridge, Lanarkshire 4 November 1940; Research Fellow, Family Fund Research Project (later Social Policy Research Unit), York University 1973-83, Senior Research Fellow 1983-86, Deputy Director 1986-87, Director 1987-2002, Professor of Social Policy 1990-2003, Head of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work 1996-99, Director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences 1998-2003; twice married (two daughters); died Rome 28 October 2003.

Sally Baldwin was passionately committed to rigorous academic research of relevance to policy makers and practitioners in the field of social policy. In a 30-year research career at York University, she became widely recognised as an academic expert on community care, disability and social security, among other topics. Generous with her advice and time, she also helped to develop the careers of more junior researchers, many of whom subsequently become leading scholars in their field.

Baldwin recognised the importance of researching the views of service users, particularly those whose voices were rarely heard, such as disabled children, deaf people and those with dementia. She was also a powerful advocate of research that crossed the boundaries between different central and local government departments.

She believed that the best way to influence policy was through rigorous, impartial research. This approach was well exemplified by her doctoral research on the costs of severely disabled children. Published in 1985, under the title The Costs of Caring: families with disabled children, it helped to get these costs recognised in the design of social security benefits and had a lasting impact on policy in this area.

Born Sarah Marie Kilday into a large family of modest means in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, in 1940, she went on to take a first class honours degree in English Literature and Language at Glasgow University in 1962. After a two-year stint as lecturer in English literature at the University of Ghent, Belgium, she moved back to Scotland to take posts in librarianship at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities between 1964 and 1971. She was briefly married to Jack Baldwin, whose surname she retained, although the marriage ended in divorce.

The turning point in her career came when she moved to York, where she took a Diploma in Social Administration with distinction in 1973. In the same year, she became a research fellow working on the Family Fund Project, which later became the Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU). She remained in the Unit for the next 30 years, becoming Assistant Director in 1986 and Director in 1987.

The university awarded her a personal chair in 1990 in recognition of her contribution to research and scholarship in social policy. Under her leadership, SPRU doubled in size and developed an enviable reputation for the rigour and professionalism of its research and also for its commitment to disseminating research findings to policy makers and practitioners.

Baldwin's managerial and administrative skills were put to further good use when, in 1994, she was appointed Head of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, a post she held while still Director of SPRU. In 1998, she was appointed Director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, an umbrella organisation for the five health and social policy research centres at York, which together housed the largest concentration of applied social researchers in the UK.

Highly committed to gender equality, she also played an important role in the development of the Centre for Women's Studies at York and for a period helped out with the teaching on its courses. She retired from the directorship of SPRU in 2002. At the time of her death, she was leading a programme of "systematic reviews" in social policy, an important aim of which was to improve the evidence base for policy and practice.

Baldwin sat on numerous committees and advisory bodies, where her sharp intellect, wisdom, and breadth of expertise were much in demand. She was a trustee of the Family Fund, a member of the executive of the Disability Alliance, a board member of York Housing Association, a member of the NHS Research and Development Commissioning Panel for Research Awards in Primary Care, and a non-executive director of York NHS Trust. She was also chair of the Association of Directors of Research Centres in the Social Sciences. In 1999, in recognition of her contribution to social policy research, she was elected a founding member of the Academy of Learned Societies of the Social Sciences.

Sally Baldwin was anything but a dry-as-dust academic. Small in stature, but full of vitality and enthusiasm, she argued passionately and eloquently for the things she believed in. She was very loyal and made many friends in the course of her work. She had a sharp wit, a ready smile and a mischievous sense of humour. Above all, she was tremendous fun to be with and, helped on by a glass or two of wine, was very often the life and soul of a party.

She leaves behind her husband Joe Callan, her children Emma and Julia, and her first husband, Jack Baldwin.

Peter Kemp