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What is social policy?
Social Policy refers to the development of welfare, social administration and policies of the government used for social protection. Social policy is related to the governmental approach of development of social services towards formation of a welfare state (Alcock, 2003). British welfare state is associated with ‘poor laws’ established to cater to the needs of the poor. Social policy is not just a mere academic subject but relates to social and economic conditions of a country, how to promote these conditions for the development of a welfare state. Social policy, administration and social work are all aimed at the administration of welfare and the main areas of concern include tackling of social problems, administration of health, education and employment services, community care, crime and disability. Social policy is also related to issues of race, poverty, gender and the relevant collective responsibility of society and community (Coffey, 2004). Social policy is heavily dependent on related disciplines of social work, psychology, law, economics, sociology, politics, economics, philosophy and public health.
According to Burch et al (1991), Policies are “courses of action, whether intended or unintended, that are deliberately adopted or can be shown to follow regular patterns over time.”, and Social policies “have to do with human beings living together as a group in a situation requiring that they have dealings with each other.” (1991, p.2)
Burch et al further claim that Social Policy is associated with ‘de jure’, ‘de facto’ and default claims, which means that Social policy is rooted in legal framework and tends to follow a particular form of practice. Yet, social policies are also subject to failures and an absence of implementation.
Explaining Social Policy
Emphasizing on the need for proper implementation of policies, Krysik et al (1998) suggest that social policy is about decision making and choosing among many alternative courses of action. Giving a complete administrative and procedural description to social policy, they claim that implementation strategies towards particular goals should deal with:
issues of financing and reimbursement, e.g., sources of revenue and formulas for sharing costs; whether to use market mechanisms or public provision, or some combination of both; appropriateness of administrative mechanisms for a particular policy; and level(s) of government involvement and appropriateness of roles. (Krysik et al 1998, p.3)
Krysik et al bring out an important aspect of social policy suggesting that social policy and the concept of individual well being is mainly a consequent process of the Social Security Act 1935 that identified the following needs:
employment (the Federal Employment Act of 1946 expressed the goal of full employment for everyone able to work);
housing [the Housing Act of 1949 (P.L. 81-171) stated that all Americans have “the right to decent housing, in decent surroundings of their choosing”];
health (the Comprehensive Health Planning Act of 1967 stated that Americans have the right to the highest quality of health care services available);
education for handicapped children (P.L. 94-142 of 1975 insured the provision of a free, appropriate public education for all). (Krysik et al, 1998, p.5)
Social policy addresses two main aspects of welfare and administration. Welfare economics is understood in terms of utility or people’s well being and refers to the range of services that can protect people against sicknesses, old age and the associated term ‘welfare state’, is used synonymously with ‘social protection’ referred to within the European union. Welfare is thus a broad term and a description of welfare state would aim to achieve not just a realization of people’s needs but a general physical and psychological well-being as well.
Social policy towards a welfare state approach is guided by several humanitarian, democratic, religious and practical concerns. Humanitarian concerns are related to eradication of poverty and practical necessities deal with economic and social provisions and benefits (Hill, 2000). Religious aspects emphasize on the charitable duties towards the community at large and democratic concerns highlight social protection as a fundamental democratic right of every individual. In this sense social policy has political and sociological aspects concerned not just with well being but tends to highlight proper living as a fundamental right of an individual.
Principles and values applied to social policy can refer to needs, interests or wants of people with conditions such as poverty being identified as projecting ‘lack of well-being’. Social well being is generally considered in the interests of families, communities and individuals as people depend on social interaction, education and cooperative work to achieve social targets and rely on social interdependence for personal well-being. Social policy and administration is closely associated with individual perception of society, social values and social interaction as a means to fulfill specific social responsibility aimed at common good.
When considering the ideal conditions of a welfare state or the factors of a lack of well being, several aspects on poverty, necessity, unemployment, old age, mental illness, disability and social exclusion are brought into focus. These refer to problems or obstacles in attaining the condition of welfare or a state of well being for all. Poverty can mean a deprivation of basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, education but along with economic deprivation can also mean social exclusion, poor material conditions of living and is defined by normative or felt needs. However, poverty has its own stigma and can carry implications of inequality as poor people are the ones considered socially inadequate, who adapt themselves to a culture of poverty and poor due to the inequalities in social structure. Unemployment and social exclusion are other negative factors that tend to retard social policy towards welfare aims. Unemployment can be due to inadequacy in appropriate skills, or due to physical limitations such as old age and disability. Illness and old age are associated as health of old people are below average and most elderly individuals also suffer from some disability. All this is added to problems of isolation and mental dissatisfaction or some sort of psychological crisis in old age. According to the World Health Organization disability is however either an ‘impairment’ as in problems in bodily structure or functions, a ‘disability’ or inability to perform certain activities or a ‘handicap’ which relate to problems with social participation (WHO, 2005). Disability of any form of permanent illness can have social, physical or psychological implications and forms a significant aspect of welfare considerations. Although social policy is focused on the more politically active and conscious younger generation and tends to attend to social needs of employment and rights and justice issues that concern young people. Social policy is thus an all-inclusive diverse discipline with varied academic and socio-political aspects with active concerns on public health and welfare.
Daly (2003) emphasizes on the importance of governance as a frame of analysis in social policy and investigates the usage and utility of governance as a discipline to study aspects of social policy. Using governance and political decisions as tools for development of social policy in the UK, Daly considers the public sphere, policy implementation, societal incorporation and policy making through governance examining the various strengths and weaknesses of governance including it focus on power and different levels of action and analysis. Daly approaches an important question as to whether a strong focus on state and governance leads to ‘residualization of social policy and society’.
Taylor (1998) takes on a different approach and emphasizes the importance of social identity in social policy research. Taylor’s attempt was to go beyond for or against postmodernism arguments and argues that identity and difference from a social perspective and an analysis of social relations should also be considered alongside structural inequalities within the theoretical considerations of social policy. Taylor suggests that there are problems in the understanding of the concept of social policy which according to him is clearly misunderstood and delineates the necessity of a provisional theory that can distinguish between ontological and categorical identity in social policy. This he suggests would help to improve an understanding of the role of soils policy in the process of social identity formation.
Franklin (2003) analyses the concept of social capital as an important instrument to political change. Franklin writes that the idea o social capital reconfigures the dynamics between social justice and economic efficiency and makes social relationships a key factor in explaining levels of inequality, economic prosperity and political participation (Franklin 2003, p.349). The concept of social capital as the focus of social policy shifts the focus of responsibility from government to individual, from economy to society informing policies that highlight social behavior reducing costs to government providing in turn economic solutions to social problems.
The human as agency has also been taken up in social policy research extensively and Deacon and Mann (1999) focus on individual behavior in sociology and social policy research. The focus of the article is on the individual and the increasing moral and ethical dilemmas faced by an individual in a contemporary society, an aspect that has broad implications of social policy that is concerned with a general well being of every individual and a sense of well being is an important part of moral and ethical values. The authors suggest that moralists such as Field and Mead share the need for restructuring welfare to encourage responsible moral behavior. However sociologists Beck and Bauman believe that such a forced method might prove not only futile but even dangerous. Individualistic approaches and theories face considerable resistance from quarters that fear any support for atavistic individualism. However, the authors realize the need for a revival of theories based on the individual human agency that can create opportunities within social science and make it more sensitive to the activities of poor people and to the necessities and differences of a contemporary diverse British society.
In this essay we analyzed the definitions of social policy and highlighted the all-encompassing nature of social policy and practice and how this is related to the concept of British welfare state. In this context we also analyzed the concept of welfare as government action to promote well-being considering the necessities of unemployed young people as also disabled or ill elderly persons. The needs of the poor and socially excluded are also considered in drawing up polices based on national health system and social security concerns. In our analysis of recent research papers, we discussed individual behavior, social identity, moral and ethical responsibility, and political issues in governance as important aspects of social policy research.
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