The name of 'social policy' is used to refer to the policies which
governments use for welfare and social protection, to the ways in which
welfare is developed in a society, and to the academic study of the
In the first sense, social policy is particularly concerned with
social services and the welfare state. In the second, broader sense, it
stands for a range of issues extending far beyond the actions of
government - the means by which welfare is promoted, and the social and
economic conditions which shape the development of welfare.
This section looks at contrasting ideas about politics and welfare,
including the role of government and public action. The second
part looks at the influence of key values, such as individualism,
freedom, rights and religious values.
Social policy draws on sociology to
explain the social context of
welfare provision. If we are trying to improve people's welfare, it is
helpful to try to understand something about the way that people are,
and how welfare policies relate to their situation. Some writers have
gone further, arguing that because welfare takes place in a social
context, it can only be understood in that context.
Inequality is not difference. Saying that people are unequal is
saying that some are disadvantaged relative to others; inequality is
disadvantage in a social context. The main inequalities in society are
class, gender, race and inequalities in income and wealth.
Social Policy is an applied subject; it was developed to meet the
needs of people who would be working in the public services. Social
administration is the area of the field concerned with the
practicalities of service organisation and delivery. In the US, it is
dealt with as 'public policy' or 'policy analysis'.
The idea of need refers at times to problems, at other times to the
responses that services might make; for practical purposes, a
need is a claim for service. This section looks at some of the
main categories of need that lead people to rely on social
Poverty has often been described
in terms of low income and resources, but this does not capture the
huge range of issues which it touches. 'Poverty' may
material conditions - needing goods and services,
multiple deprivation, or a low standard of living; economic
position - low income, limited resources,
inequality or low social class; and the social position of
the poor, through lack of
entitlement, dependency or social exclusion.
Several pages on this website deal more specifically with the social
services - systems of organisation that deal with
essential needs for health care, housing, education, social work and
This is a mainly chronological outline of
developments in British
social policy up to 1948. The Poor Law lasted, in one form or another,
for 350 years, and accounts of British social policy tend in
consequence to be
dominated by the role of government.