Academic, expert on social policy and campaigner on social housing

Born: January 19, 1926;

Died: April 28, 2018

PROFESSOR David Donnison, who has died aged 92, was a renowned member of the academic profession in Scotland and an eminent member of the staff at Glasgow University. He latterly held the post of Emeritus Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Urban Studies but had previously held the chair of town and regional planning.

His contribution to the advancement of social affairs throughout the UK, but particularly in Scotland, was considerable. He was a passionate researcher into all aspects of urban life and planning – and a life-long campaigner for improvement in social housing, education and social security administration. He was recognised as Britain's foremost authority on social policy and administration and a lifelong advocate for social justice and the fight against poverty.

Professor Donnison was a scholarly and humane man with enlightened views on the welfare of society and how it can best be administered in the 21st century. As a distinguished Japanese academic said of him, “He taught me how to solve social problems: by love.”

Although born in London Professor Donnison became a keen supporter of Scotland, its customs and traditions. He was devoted to the city of Glasgow and in 2006 led a seminar about the city’s future which asked, ‘Given the signs of a significant upturn in Glasgow’s fortunes, how should we plan for the future?’

David Vernon Donnison was the son of Frank Donnison, formerly a governor of Burma and at his birth, it has been reported, he neither breathed nor cried for 20 minutes – one colleague has suggested that he was thinking exactly what to say. He attended Marlborough College, served in the Royal Navy during the war and then read philosophy, politics and economics at Magdalen College Oxford. His first academic posts in the early Fifties were at Manchester and Toronto universities and in 1961 he chaired the Supplementary Benefits Commission and eight years later was appointed chair of social administration at the London School of Economics.

He was appointed chair of the Supplementary Benefits Commission in 1975 by Barbara Castle – a position for which his experience and expertise made him ideally suited. He proposed radical plans that some of the money spent on mortgage tax relief could be better spent on realigning benefits. Neither the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan nor any succeeding government ever countenanced such a proposal.

Other major social enquiries with which Professor Donnison was associated was the Milner Holland Report on housing in London and, in 1970, he chaired a report on how the independent day schools might play a more constructive part in state education.

Professor Donnison had been a staunch supporter of the Labour Party since 1947 but admitted, “I have stayed with them – apart from a break of some years following our entry into the Iraq war.”

Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies at Glasgow University was a colleague and friend of many years. He remembered Professor Donnison as a caring man committed to social justice.

“David saw social policy in the round and from the user’s point of view," said Dr Webster. "He respected people from everywhere and sought their opinions. David wanted to help vulnerable people and the homeless and did so in a caring and compassionate manner. David campaigned for a different perspective on society - he was a man of much charm who led a very full and active life.”

In 2016 Professor Donnison gave a remarkable lecture on citizenship and health as part of the Stevenson Lecture series at Glasgow University. Without a note he spoke with great authority on the development of the Scottish advocacy service and how those in need can get assistance from the public services. In a thought-provoking conclusion he suggested advocacy workers speak to vulnerable patients on more equal terms. “We must reach out to all sectors of society and help those coping with mental and physical problems: thereby we can influence care within communities.”

Professor Donnison was a widely read author and won particular praise for Regenerating the Inner City: Glasgow’s Experience, Politic and Poverty and Advocacy for Health & Social Care. Last month he gave a rousing address in Glasgow on his latest book, It Takes a Lifetime to Become Yourself - an edited collection of his late wife Kay Carmichael's writings.

A keen supporter of Shelter, Professor Donnison was also a poet, painter, musician and an enthusiastic swimmer.

He firstly married Jean Elizabeth Kidger and had two sons and two daughters. In 1987 he married Kay Carmichael, a much respected colleague.