Tribute to Professor John Veit-Wilson (1936-2020)

by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw

Colleagues will be saddened to learn that John Veit-Wilson died on Sunday, 10 May 2020. John will be remembered as a very kind and generous person with a great intellect, a tremendous scholar who contributed greatly to the discipline and a tireless anti-poverty campaigner. John will be sorely missed. (Chris Deeming, University of Strathclyde)

John was a founding member of the Child Poverty Action Group. He attended the meeting at Toynbee Hall in 1965 that decided to set up the group. It had been convened by John’s mother, Harriett Wilson, a Quaker, sociologist and campaigning author, and Vice-Chair of CPAG until 1981, to discuss the findings of The Poor and the Poorest by Brian Abel Smith and Peter Townsend which had just been published. John was already working with Brian and Peter at the London School of Economics as one of the brilliant group of research assistants for the great study Poverty in the United Kingdom.

John was strongly committed to tackling and preventing poverty. He served CPAG from 1965 to his death. He was a member of the Executive/Board of Trustees for most of that time. He convened the Publications sub-committee, commenting with great attention on drafts of the publications. He was then Convener of the Policy Committee and stayed on as a member after his retirement.

Within CPAG and in his other writing he was a strong advocate of a sociological understanding of poverty in terms of rights and needs, such as budget standards, rather than a reliance on (arbitrary) income thresholds – see especially Setting Adequacy Standards, 1998.

He became a Professor of Social Policy at Northumbria University, then Emeritus Professor, and Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, and was active in welfare rights and CPAG branches in the North East. He was a long-term member of a walking group.

John was divorced and is survived by three children of that marriage. His son Simon cared for him during his final illness.

This tribute will be published in the Child Poverty Action Group‘s journal Poverty. Thanks to the author for permission to reproduce here.

A longer obituary written by Professor Adrian Sinfield, was published on 3rd June in The Guardian.


  1. John was an amazing guy, his tireless work on poverty and inequality was inspiring as I started my research career and his writings are ones I’ve often returned to in my current work. He was always supportive of early career researchers of which I was one, in my time at NCL uni. I will always be grateful for that. I will also miss his excellent and challenging posts on the social policy network.

  2. John was completely committed to the cause of ending child poverty and worked with CPAG with huge energy towards that goal for many years. I penned the poem below about this for him some years ago and found it again the other day. I hope it is a fitting tribute.

    It may be hard of pronunciation,
    And even harder of punctuation,
    But John Veit-Wilson is a name
    That should go down in the Hall of Fame.

    Why? Well, for always being there
    (And here, and everywhere),
    Whenever child poverty got a mention,
    Or how to solve it was in contention.

    And many people have said to me
    That a better friend of CPAG
    And of children living in poverty
    There never was, nor ever will be.

  3. John was one of a small group of women and men I met in the early 1970’s in CPAG and The British Society for Social Responsibility in science when I returned to the UK from several years working and studying in East Africa and New Zealand. He and they inspired me to transform myself from a geomorphologist contentedly collecting pebbles on beaches and sediments from volcanos into a pubic sociologist researcher, advocating and campaigning for social and health equity.. It has been is a tough track to follow but the energy, commitment and passion for social justice of people like John have been really important in helping me keep trucking along.

  4. I think John was one of the first people that I met at one of my first SPA conferences, back in the mists of time. Among his many contributions to social policy, he was a steadfast and stalwart supporter of the SPA. When we do get to meet again, at SPA conferences in the future, he will be very much missed. A lovely man, strong in his beliefs, rigorous in his approach.

  5. I think John was one of the first people that I met at my first SPA conference, back in the mists of time. Among his many contributions to social policy, John was a steadfast and stalwart SPA member. When we do meet again at future SPA conferences, he will be very much missed. A lovely man, strong in his beliefs, rigorous in his approach.

  6. John lived for many years on Tyneside and in addition to his national and indeed international roles was a great citizen of Geordieland. He was a reliable and constant supporter of campaigns relating to the local expression of inequality. Despite being told back in the day that he couldn’t join the Benton Labour Party because it was full!! – he got in and stood for the right things at every opportunity. I would note that he was massively productive in retirement and remember a fairly recent conversation with him where we agreed that the right thing to do with a pension was to do the work that needed doing. John did that to an enormously constructive degree.

  7. John was a true scholar and a great friend. I first met him when I was an undergraduate student at what was then Rutherford College of Advanced Techology. I have him to thank for an absorbing and rewarding career in Social Policy and for involving me in the early days of CPAG. He was always kind and generous as well as challenging and argumentative. He was highly principled and single minded about the causes which were dear to him. He also had the most ridiculous sense of humour and I have had many daft postcards from him over the years! He was a very special person and a good pal.

  8. John was a wise and lovely man. I only got to know him quite lately – but I feel privileged to have been able to spend time in his company. I could happily just sit and listen; I learned so much!

  9. I remember John as a tireless campaigner against child poverty and an active member of SPA – but also, since I spent my early years in Benton, where he lived, as a fellow citizen of Geordieland. He will be much missed.

  10. John was exceptionally generous with his time and energy, and a man of great integrity. He will be sadly missed within CPAG and the SPA.

  11. I admired John’s political integrity from afar when I was an early career scholar in what was then Newcastle Polytechnic. His eloquence that mirrored his deep passion and intelligence when he spoke at union meetings and other events promoting social justice was so impressive and inspiring. I saw him subsequently years later on the metro but never spoke to him. My condolences to those who knew him better. He will be a huge miss but will, I hope continue to inspire us.

  12. Like everyone I was deeply saddened to hear of John’s passing. It was a privilege to have known him and to have known someone whose work touched so many lives for the better.

  13. Even in our global world it takes time for news to travel to China. An email to him bounced back today. John was a foundation stone to my knowledge. When needing to know something, I always thought ‘I better ask John.’ And he always had an answer, though not necessarily the right one. Moreover, he always made time to give one. He always seem to be able to make time for everyone. I already feel that I know less without him. I feel a lesser being without him. I guess that we all do.

  14. I was a colleague of John’s in a different faculty of Newcaste Polytechnic. He was always friendly and willing to share ideas. A conversation with him was a source of inspiration. He gave idealism a good name.

  15. John was like a terrier in his pursuit of social justice – right to the very end. His contribution to social policy was immense and year in year out he was an active participant in the SPA’s annual conference. But it is of course on the twin issues of poverty and inequality he is best known. And he has been one of the most dedicated and active supporters of CPAG – again right to the very end. What I have learned from the tributes has been his generosity towards younger scholars. And what moved me most in his fitting Guardian obituary by Adrian Sinfield was that he reclaimed German citizenship last year as an act of solidarity with Europe. That said so much about him.

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