After working in Oxfordshire's psychiatric and social services and training as a social worker in the 1980s, Professor Smith became involved in welfare rights work and research concerning social security policy at the University of Oxford. He then was employed as a research officer for 'Scope' campaigning and political lobbying on disability issues, after which he started his academic career with the Open University in the early 1990s.
Since then he has developed a worldwide reputation for examining the relationship between political values and social policy and welfare practice, especially concerning notions of social justice, fairness, citizenship, equality, diversity, disability rights, and well-being. His main interest has been in applying these values to various social policies and welfare practices such as social and probation work, youth work, counselling, co-production, and social prescribing in health and related services.
In addition to authoring numerous articles in academic journals, and for book chapters, Professor Smith has published three book-length research monographs, and two edited collections. He was also chair of Newport City Council's Fairness Commission from 2012-2018 and was appointed as a Co-Director for WISERD in 2019.