Maj-Britt Inghe was a social worker who co-authored the socio-medical classic Den ofärdiga välfärden.
Maj-Britt Inghe was born in 1921. She was the eldest daughter of a politically active Gothenburg family. Her father Knut Senander was a customs officer who was a union activist. He also had a seat in the second chamber of parliament as a representative of Sveriges kommunistiska parti (SKP) (Swedish communist party) from 1937–1962. Maj-Britt Inghe’s mother, Greta Andersson, was a housewife who was politically active within the left-wing movement. Just like her parents Maj-Britt Inghe was politically active. During the 1930s she joined Ung Front, a highschool socialist group, and later, when she was a student, she joined Clarté. In 1945 she joined SKP.
Maj-Britt Inghe married Arne Hagström in 1943. Their son Jan was born in 1944 – he later became the planning architect behind Hammarby Sjöstad. The family moved to Stockholm. During the period 1946–1948 Maj-Britt Inghe trained as a social worker at Socialinstitutet (now Socialhögskolan) (social work college) there. Whilst training she also worked on the socio-medical doctor Gunnar Inghe’s 1946–1948 enquiry into those receiving poor-relief and sent to workhouses, amongst other things. They met through the left-wing intellectual organisation Clarté, for which Gunnar Inghe served as chair for most of the 1930s. In 1949 they got married.
After graduating Maj-Britt Inghe worked as a socio-medical doctor’s assistant, albeit not for her husband as married couples were not allowed to work within the same units. Their son Mats was born in 1950, followed five years later by another son, called Ola. Maj-Britt Inghe was then forced to give up her job as the chances of finding childcare or part-time work were nil. She returned to work in 1961, however, and at that time became involved in the socio-medical unit at the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm. She worked there until she retired. She was also active in Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund (Swedish left-wing women’s federation) and in 1953 she published a much-discussed article on the plight of Italian women following the Second World War, entitled ‘Vad Italien behöver’ in the federation journal Vi kvinnor i demokratiskt världsförbund (later known as Vi mänskor).
The Inghe couple became a familiar concept within Swedish social-welfare polemics largely due to their ground-breaking 1967 book Den ofärdiga välfärden. This book, based on a 1965 study called ‘Den tysta nöden’ which had been financed by Folksam, discusses the serious faults in social welfare which emerged at a time when the state both had the means and the desire to create genuine universal welfare. The book had an explosive impact on the ongoing social welfare discussion during the so-called ‘rekordåren’ (post-Second World War ‘record’ years of economic expansion) when welfare was seen to be at its peak. Many believed that the establishment of the social-welfare programme had eradicated poverty and social disadvantages. By highlighting the experiences of various social groups and pointing out the ‘blind spots’ within social welfare, Maj-Britt Inghe and her husband Gunnar revealed the fallacy of this belief. The book received a lot of attention, both from the general public and from social-welfare and socio-medical spheres. It has been released in several editions and serves as fundamental basis for study- and research-material.
During the 1970s Maj-Britt Inghe contributed to widening the active socio-medical field as well as its research sphere. In 1970 she and Robert Olin, a doctor, published a book entitled Alkoholisthustrur, covering a subject which was not generally discussed at that time. The book was translated into English as Wives of alcohol abusers in 1972. That same year she, Gunnar Inghe, and P.C. Jersild published a socio-medical study on post-schizophrenic recovery, called Recovery in schizophrenia: a clinical and sociopsychiatric study. During the 1970s Maj-Britt Inghe and her husband set up the Inghe Karolinska Institutet socio-medical field-station in Luleå. This was a result of that area’s major industrial policy plans known as ‘Stålverk 80’, which provided KI’s socio-medics access to a “social laboratory” just like those enjoyed by the socio-medical institutions at Uppsala and Lund. Following Gunnar Inghe’s sudden demise in 1977 Maj-Britt Inghe closed down the Luleå enterprise and returned to KI in Stockholm.
Maj-Britt Inghe was treasured across a broad spectrum of socially engaged researchers and practitioners. Doctors sometimes describe her as the mother of Swedish social-medicine (and Gunnar Inghe as its father). Social workers also highlight Maj-Britt Inghe as a pioneer of the field. In 2007 she was a guest of honour at the Social Worker gala organised by the Socionomen journal.
Maj-Britt Inghe died in Stockholm in 2014. She is buried at The Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm.