Evan Williams Tribute

Urban Studies and the wider School of Social & Political Sciences were extremely sad to hear of the sudden death of our colleague, Evan Williams.

Evan joined the University in 2014/15 as a student on the Masters programme in urban research. He was one of the strongest postgraduate students that Urban Studies has had and won the prize for the best dissertation across the Subject that year. After a short spell working in Scottish Government, he returned to the University to do a PhD. Motivated by his strong sense of social justice, he focused on the impacts of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions on claimants. He produced a thesis which demonstrated convincingly how sanctions lead to harms on mental health, providing a fundamental challenge to the arguments used to justify these policies.

Evan had already published two papers from this work, in the Journal of Social Policy and in Social Policy & Administration, both of which are being recognised as important studies in the field. Keen that his work have an impact beyond academia, he also produced an accessible summary and other pieces for a wider readership, including this piece for the LSE’s British Politics & Policy site and this piece for the Social Policy Association’s Social Policy Blog. He was rightly delighted when these efforts led to his research being cited in a House of Lords committee enquiry into Universal Credit.

Evan was widely known, admired and loved by the PhD community in Urban Studies and the wider University. His PhD friends remember him as someone who was always supportive, kind and warm-hearted. He was an incredibly interesting person to spend time with and he was interested in others, finding ways to connect with, encourage, and value those around him, no matter the difference in background, culture or interests – an all-round wonderful person.

After the PhD, Evan remained with Urban Studies, moving on to a role as a post-doctoral researcher as part of the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research. Among other things, this enabled him to continue the work from his thesis, contributing to a major review of the international literature on the impacts of sanctions. The Centre’s website carried a short interview with Evan in June which gives a nice insight into his views about his work and his career.

Evan had had some opportunity to get involved with teaching and had excelled here too. He was just about to take up a new role as a lecturer in social and public policy at the time of his death. Colleagues who taught with him have spoken of his enthusiasm and generosity with students.

Alongside his academic achievements, what colleagues all remember about Evan are his warm and generous personality. Despite his evident abilities, he was a very modest person, always willing to help others or offer advice and support, kind and considerate but also great fun. We will miss Evan enormously and would like to pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends, particularly to his partner, Clara, his parents, Moira and Richard, and his brothers, Nye and Huw.

We have set up an online book of remembrance for Evan. If you have memories or tributes that you would like to share, please do so.


First published: 16 September 2021

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