Social Policy is part of the Social Sciences but it differs from other disciplines within the field such as Sociology, Economics and Politics. The main difference stems from the fact that Social Policy has an empirical focus with the aim being the support of well-being through social action. In this sense, Social Policy is a deliberate intervention by the government to understand how best to tackle a particular social issue, a pro-active attempt to create positive change in society through interventions according to the current needs of society.
Similar to the other Social Science disciplines, Social Policy has its academic side and although different in its own way, it is closely linked to the other disciplines, drawing on them as a framework within which to work co-operatively to achieve the social aims of promoting well-being.
Social Policy is about real world social action. Social Policy is not a study of society for its own academic sake but will use all knowledge available regarding society to help with the design of social action and policy development. This applies to the economy and political situation of the country as well. Society, Politics and the Economy are frameworks within which Social Policy can work.
Social Policy includes laws, rules and regulations that are used to manage benefits and services given by both government and any organisation that partner with the government to assist individuals and groups to meet their needs. Such a need can be seen to be the gap between the existing condition and the minimum social standard set by society.
Social Policy is sometimes seen as part of Sociology. However, while Sociology is interested in social relationships and how they function, Social Policy focuses on creating well-being through various approaches. It will make use of Sociology, Statistics, Management Theory, Social Psychology, History, Politics, Economics and other such disciplines and use them to help design social action.
Over the years, Social Policy has developed as a means of ‘social protection’ – a means for the state to develop policies and reforms to overcome the various social problems that emerge from time to time. Here we see a relationship between Politics and Social Policy since for policy to be formulated and implemented, there needs to be political power to back it up. Policy initiatives and reforms need to be supported both directly and indirectly by the state.
Social Policy focuses on the best way to design social action for the continuous promotion of well-being. For example, Social Policy looks at welfare and considers how best to administer it – should it be state based welfare with a focus on public services or partnerships between state and other providers where the role of the state moves towards subsidizing the services and acting as a regulator?
Social Policy also looks beyond providing – but also focuses on who should benefit and if they should be means-tested or not. It looks beyond redistribution of wealth – but policy formulation to help understand who should contribute and who should be the recipient of such wealth.
Social Policy has a strong connection to practice and action and it is through policy analysis that governments (and in turn, society) can devise the best way to create wellbeing. There are various alternatives that can be taken and it is difficult to measure which one will lead to the best outcome.
Social Policy is formulated according to the needs of Society. There are various social issues that need to be taken into consideration and it is important to analyse demographics – for example, people are living longer and are having fewer children. This means that there is a higher life expectancy and a lower birth rate which leads to an aging society. The structure of households is changing as well with many different family structures. It is through the analysis of such social realities and trends that effective social policies can be designed. Other areas of importance to Social Policy include Health Care Planning and Housing Policies, both stemming from such trends. Health Care in an aging society is an essential service and Housing policies need to be designed to cater for the different housing needs of all the different family structures that exist. Five main areas of focus are social security benefits, health care, education, housing and services for individuals.
Social Policy also looks at action related to the provision of care services – should this be given in the community or in hospitals and institutions? It also looks into funding of services. Effective Social Policy looks at all such issues and tries to understand all the key issues to help with the development of Social Policy.
Other important areas of interest to Social Policy include Children and Young People, issues of disabilities, Employment and Education.
It is not easy to measure the impact of Social Policy. Here, once again, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed. Statistics can help to compare the situation before a policy was implemented with the situation after implementation. Economics can help design models to understand public finances and how they should be distributed which can be measured. Sociology can help to understand the structure of society and the care needs that exist which can serve as a base against which to measure impact. Laws can help with the creation of frameworks within which policy can be designed and implemented.
Social Policy aims to help resolve social problems through social action and policy formulation that can contribute towards the overcoming of difficulties that some people face in their lives. There are various social problems that Social Policy seeks to address such as unemployment, homelessness, health problems, illiteracy and crime amongst other issues. Social Policy also aims to understand the needs of specific groups such as the elderly, young people, the unemployed and homeless people. This takes the form of a needs-based approach to focus both on the needs of such groups and the formulation of policy to help address these needs.
Social Policy is about looking at how people live and what their social needs are. It seeks to understand the social, political, ideological and institutional context to create a framework within which Social Policy can be formulated. The overall aim of Social Policy is that through its actions it will create social justice for all groups in society and tackle all the social issues that are existent in that society.
Social Policy also aims to increase Social Inclusion through actions and initiatives taken to help individuals and groups to better their social situation.
One of the main aims of Social Policy is to ensure that through its implementation, it promotes equality, rights and social justice. Social Policy aims to achieve these through effective measures of the various social needs and social problems in society, following which effective Social Welfare measures are put in place.
Equality is a particular issue in social policy. Many people tend to think it means ‘everyone should get the same’ yet, somehow for equality to exist, sometimes certain individuals and groups have to be treated different.
The concept of equality is not about what is ‘given’ but rather that everyone has ‘equal value’. For this reason, some people will be entitled to certain benefits and services whilst others may not. Although many people question how this leads to equality, the answer is simply that it is through these entitlements that a person can become equal to those who do not necessarily need them.
Obviously this brings with it questions regarding such claims for entitlements. For example, recipients of welfare benefits are frequently questioned – can they move to a point where they do not need such benefits or do they stay as they are because it is more convenient? There is no clear answer to this – some may have the ability to move away from being on welfare and choose not to whilst others may genuinely need to remain recipients. In situations such as this, Social Policy also has the role of means testing and monitoring the situation as well as offering alternative forms of welfare in addition to financial means.
There are also two approaches to equality – equality of outcome and equality of opportunity and both these require a different approach as regards to social policy. Policies leading to equality of outcome focus on achieving equal value for all individuals and groups whilst policies leading to equality of opportunity focus on ensuring all have the same chance at opportunities offered by society. Examples of equality of opportunity can be clearly seen in social policies related to education policy.
Many groups in society struggle to achieve the ‘status’ of deserving social policy interventions to achieve equal opportunities in society. Such groups include issues related to disability, gender, sexual orientation and race amongst others.
There are various debates in society about ‘rights’ and such discussions usually end up with groups of individuals claiming that something is their right whilst other groups stating it is not a right. A typical example of this can be seen in discussions related to same-sex marriage in many societies.
The concept of what is and what is not a right evolves along with a society and it can be said that one of the achievements of modern society is a formal structure of social rights within it.
Obviously, a main issue of contention in this area is the issue of state authority. Conflicts between individual rights and state authority can be clearly seen in various public debates across many societies. For example, all governments impose some form of taxation and no citizen can claim it is their right not to pay tax. Government authority can also be felt when certain norms become part of the culture of a country. This authority is usually enforced by establishing patterns of behaviour through welfare systems in place.
When it comes to welfare claims, there are needs-based arguments that seek to establish minimum needs as a right that should be catered for by the government to ensure they are met. There are many other arguments that state that when individuals or groups within a society perform some type of activity, they also have a right to some sort of welfare benefit. For example, many people argue that it is the right of those who serve in wars to be helped by the government on their return for the service given by their country. Some current debates for example discuss whether a stay-at-home parent should be paid or not, some arguing that they are taking care of society’s families and citizens whilst others claiming it is a choice people make and not a right. These types of functional arguments focus on whether certain activities are essential enough to make it a government obligation to take care of those who provide it. These types of activities are very difficult to list and
the list will always keep on increasing with more people suggesting other activities that should also be compensated by right – usually according to current social issues and problems that the society would be facing at the time.
Rights and equality arguments are the basis for the establishing of social justice and who should get what in society. Meet established social needs and ensuring certain rights are ensured is not always a simple case. Any form of resources needed to meet needs and ensure rights are scarce and so, social justice is needed to ensure distribution is done appropriately. Decisions taken in Social Policy affect how this distribution is done and what the priorities are and this is affected by the ideology of the government in place. Through policy interventions, decisions are made that distribute any welfare services and opportunities to those who, according to the ideology and perspective of the policy makers, deserve it the most to ensure social justice.
Society will always have debates on issues of equality, rights and social justice as values keep changing and more individuals and groups put forward their own issues to be considered as social rights and demand social policy intervention.
As society keeps changing, new issues emerge that will to be considered such as a reduction in care within the family itself whilst at the same time having an aging population, unemployment and economic issues, environmental issues and the issues related to the sustainability of welfare. Social Policy interventions can help to ensure a society based on concepts of equality, rights and justice. As time passes, society examines what it considers as rights and pressure groups also contribute to such discussions. Social Policy frameworks are set up to cater for these rights keeping in mind issues of equality and how best to ensure a just society.
It is very common for individuals who have some sort of disability to experience economic problems and social disadvantages in various areas. For example, many companies as well as public places are still not full accessible and many schools still do not always have suitably qualified people who can help the school be prepared to offer an equal opportunities experience at every level.
When it comes to employment, a high percentage of people who have a disability find it hard to find appropriate employment mainly because of assumptions and discriminatory behaviour by employers. Because of this, many countries have legislation to ensure there are equal opportunities for all and making it illegal to discriminate based on any form of disability.
Social Policy in this area focuses on how to ensure equal opportunities in the main steam and overlap with education policy, employment policy and housing policy amongst others. For example, it is common for states to impose a ‘positive discrimination quota’ in certain areas to ensure people who have a disability can have the same opportunities. The aim behind such quotas is to show society that it can be done successfully and hopefully reaching the stage where quotas are no longer required.
Employment is a major issue and policies have been designed to help avoid people finding jobs which are often low-paid, low-status and with poor conditions. When employment cannot be found, people who have a disability as well as their families may end up having to rely on welfare benefits.
Sometimes, the difference between the amount received through welfare and the pay offered through certain jobs is so little that people fall into the welfare trap and choose to remain on welfare rather than enter the job market.
The way certain health and welfare services are managed by certain professionals, sometimes promote the idea of helplessness and the incapability of being independent. In this sense, welfare does both good and bad – it is good because it serves as a safety net for individuals who need it yet it sometimes creates a situation where people feel that it is all there is and end up accepting the idea that things cannot improve.
In reality, certain disabilities can affect a person’s ability to do certain things – for example they may have physical and psychological traumas that affect their ability to function in certain roles. However, apart from this reality, there is another very serious reality – that people who have some form of disability find barriers in society that prevent them from becoming independent, making them rely on welfare. This means that many times, it is not the individual’s fault that they cannot move forward but that many times, it is society that creates the barriers preventing them from doing so.
When possible, Care in the Community is important to ensure that people can continue to live their life whilst receiving help they need. This care needs to be designed based on social policy that can help the person lead a satisfactory quality life.
Problems with a life on welfare do not affect only people who have a disability. Effective community care can help to improve such a life by ensuring that although on welfare, life can be lived with a focus on quality of care and quality of life. Like with most situations of welfare provisions, community care is provided through a mix of contributors – the state (both in the community and in hospitals and homes), the family itself, the private sector and the voluntary sector.
An issue that crops us is that the people who will be using these services are rarely involved in the planning and delivery of such services and that there are rarely assessments and evaluations done on such services even though reforms are sometimes needed. Such reforms may need to include a change in the balance of power between the professional and the service user so that together they can assess needs and the best way forward and contribute towards the care plan.
Considering that most of the disadvantages experienced by people who have a disability come from restrictions and barriers in society, it is the role of social policy to do something about this. Policy is designed to help ensure individual needs are met though the provision of professional services and policies that help remove barriers and discrimination from society. It moves away from segregated services such as day care centers and special schools, services that invade privacy and are given in a paternalistic way and without consulting the people who will be receiving the services. The end result of such policy must be a more inclusive rights-based society where employment and educational opportunities are present rather than poverty and welfare to ensure a good quality of life.
The real nature of the problem is that it has approached this issue in an institutionalized way and society is used to having a discriminatory approach to people who have a disability. Once this is understood, policy can move towards removing this approach by ensuring equal treatment and equal opportunities and focusing on rights rather than needs.
Over time, the issue of society and people who have a disability has evolved. There have been positive shifts and it is now evident that most discrimination stems from the fact that there are barriers in society rather than because of actual inability to perform certain roles in society.
Social Policy must help society to move away from a needs-based welfare system to a society where there are equal opportunities and where through social justice, rights can be clear and achieved. Most countries have put this topic on the agenda and many have also legislated in favor of creating an equal opportunities society. People who have a disability are not interested in welfare and charity but on living their lives in a society where they can be active and independent because opportunities to do so exist
Employment Policies are an important concern for Social Policy because employment is the main or sole source of income for many people in a society. Apart from financial considerations, employment is also related to how people see themselves socially and is widely considered part of a person’s life. This is evident when one considers that people who are unemployed are not only at risk of poverty but of feeling they are losing self-worth and of feeling excluded from the rest of society. Unemployment is also linked with other social issues such as poor medical care, crime and family problems.
As regards cost, unemployment is very costly for governments. When people are employed, they pay taxes and contribute to society in general through spending, which in turn helps the economy grow. When people are unemployed, not only is this not the case but governments spend money on social security benefits.
Social Policy looks at employment policies in a context – it focuses policies and measures that can help reduce unemployment but it also focuses on the problems in society that stem from unemployment. As with Health Care polices, in this case, governments must focus on both prevention and cure.
On the issue of unemployment, Social Policy must work hand in hand with Economic Policy yet still have a strong focus on the social aspect. Unemployment prevention starts off by having an effective economy but it is also related to other policies related to education, training and social security policies.
Governments provide two types of employment services in society – policies and schemes for those who are unemployed and for the employment market in general to ensure there are the required skills and capabilities required. Policies and schemes for those who are unemployed include placement services, help with planning on how to find a job, schemes that create jobs, training and work experience programmes and subsidies for employers.
Placement services are services where people who are unemployed are put in contact with employers through job centers. These services are offered to anyone looking for employment but are mainly used by those who have been unemployed for a while and are registering for work. Many employers know about this service and make use of it. However, jobs placed in this manner are likely to be jobs that are require little skills and are low paid.
Help with planning is also offered to those registering for work. They are offered help on how to draw up a personal audit of all the skills, knowledge and experience they have and to make a plan of what to do next. Sometimes such help is offered through job clubs who give people practical skills on how to look for work and succeed at application writing and interviews.
Job Creation Schemes include programs which are formulated to create work, mainly of a temporary nature for people who are unemployed. Such jobs are usually related to community work and can include tasks such as cleaning and improving streets and gardens within societies. The issue with such schemes is that such jobs are mainly very basic jobs which generally do not increase the skills of those who participate and who return to unemployment once the scheme is ready.
Training and Work Experience programs serve to counteract the issues that are not tackled in Job Creation Schemes. Such programs focus on the gain of experience and skills which can give participants knowledge and vocational skills that can serve them to find gainful employment following the program.
Employer subsidies are mainly used to encourage employers to recruit people who would have been unemployed for a long time and / or who are finding it difficult to find employment. Such subsidies include either help with payment of wages or tax benefits for a duration of time.
The objectives of such employment measures are the reducing the amount of unemployed people through active help and support as well as the control of the unemployment register. This is because such measures are aimed at helping people be placed in employment and so, if all those who are receiving unemployment benefits are offered any of these measures, the abuse of benefits by a minority who would not really be looking for a job can be controlled.
However, such measures bring with it certain issues in the mind of some employers whose objectives may be different from the employment agencies. Employers are looking for the best qualified people for their vacancy whilst the employment agency will be looking to place the people they have registering for work. This may be felt more when it comes to placing people who have been unemployed for a long period of time and employment agencies are frequently faced with the dilemma of whether to push a long-term unemployed person who might not be the best for the post or push a recently unemployed person who could possibly do the job better due to having more recent skills. Obviously agencies feel obligated to first help the long-term unemployed and this is where the dilemma is evident.
One can argue that these measures are a burden on the tax payer since some of the people would have employment anyway. However, such measures give people work experience that can make them more attractive to employers and improve the labor supply. The argument is that jobs can be created when the economy is good. The best results will mainly be obtained by combining in the measures a strong element of training, assistance on how to search for a job and policies that motivate people to find employment for themselves.
For such measures to be more effective, the principle of conditionality needs to be included. This means that individuals will only be entitled to benefits if they are willing to participate in the measures that are suitable and recommended to them.
Such employment measures are always on the agenda of both political and academic debates since unemployment is both an important political and an economic issue. The focus of these debates will be reforms to education and the labor market. The debates will also focus on purpose and effectiveness of such measures and how they influence the benefit system of the country.
Families are frequently found at the center of many political debates and all governments have specific Social Policies set out to support the family in its various forms. Common social issues discussed in relation to families are issues such as where both the parents work, single parents, child care, divorce and marriage breakdowns and teenage pregnancy.
Apart from such direct policies that affect the family directly, almost all government policies affect the family indirectly. For example, policies related to housing, employment, social security, taxation and education all affect families.
Families actually serve as a context for Social Policy. The changing patterns and structure of the family has brought with it changes in welfare needs and so, a need for different policies. Social Policies related to the families have been designed around families of the time. For example, traditional family policy focused on the model where the male was the financial provider and the female was the full-time homemaker and carer. Policies were designed around this and so, married males received tax benefits and were the recipients of all social security benefits. Families were assumed to be stable and the roles clearly established.
As time passed, family roles and structures have changed. Family breakdowns, cohabitation, single parent households, children born outside of marriage and dual-parent workers are all common and require particular policies.
Amidst all these changes, Social Policy decisions need to be taken. There are various perspectives that can be taken. For example, the state can feel that the family needs to be helped and policy can be designed to ‘restore traditional patterns’ (reactionary). Another perspective focuses on the idea that changes are part of society’s trends and so the role of social policy should support all family structures (Pragmatist). Another perspective focuses on such changes as a sign of increased freedom and that social policy needs to give all the support necessary for them to thrive (Libertarians).
Those who argue that the family is disintegrating blame policies that have created disincentives to marriage and incentives for single parent households as well as feminist perspectives that have brought about changes in roles within the family. Such arguments hold that without a strong traditional family, children will grow up with less discipline and role models and crime will increase. This reactionary approach believes that social policy should support marriage and traditional families.
The pragmatic view consider changes as trends and social policy should be designed to ensure both genders have opportunities to be parents and also work and to be able to balance them out with policies such as parental leave, child care assistance and policies that promote both family and working life.
The Libertarian views changes as positive and making way for equal opportunities. Changing family patterns are seen as part of a freer society. This view seeks to restrict the negative view towards certain family patterns.
The impact of Social Policy lies within its welfare systems and provisions. For example, measures of poverty rates can help determine welfare contributions needed to various family structures.
Family Policy is difficult to define since almost all government actions affect the family in some way. However, a minimalist definition includes policies that directly affect the family. Main areas of policy that directly affect the family include laws regulating family behaviour, policies that influence income support and the provision of family services.
Laws that regulate family behaviour include laws related to marriage and divorce as well as issues related to reproduction, contraception and abortion as well as issues related to rights and duties of parents and child protection. All laws and policies that emerge from such laws regulate how families can behave – what they can and can’t do, what is rewarded and what is considered a crime.
Policies that affect income include tax allowances related to people who are married, have children and / or are the sole earners in the family. It also includes policies related to child benefits, parental leave and policies related to child support. Such policies affect families and their incomes and regulate how people receive certain benefits.
Policies that decide on how family services are provided include child care provisions, housing prices for families as well as other services offered in the community that affect the lives of families.
As can be seen, the policies adopted greatly affect the lives of families and also direct families as to what can be achieved if they act accordingly. For example, policies that are designed to give families allowances and tax breaks for every child they have as well as the provision of child care will have a positive impact on all those families who want to have a child as well as motivate those who were unsure if they could afford such a lifestyle change.
As can be seen, the way Family Policy is designed affects how families are seen. There are various approaches that governments can take towards family policy. For example governments can be pro-family and pro-birth. This means that governments develop policies that encourage families to have children by including various benefits as well as work-life balance measures.
Another approach governments can take is to be pro-traditional families. Here, the government helps families to take care of themselves, strengthen communities and create policies that make it easier for females to remain at home instead of go out to work.
Another approach that can be taken by governments is to be pro-equality. Through this approach, governments focus on policies of equality between the genders and designs liberal policies to ensure there are limited restrictions on how people choose to live their family life.
Another approach is to be pro-family but not intervene. In this approach, governments view families as being self-sufficient who meet their own needs and only receive help from the state when absolutely necessary.
Most governments decide on family policy based on issues and social problems at the time. For example, if the birth rate is decreasing, they may focus on policies that encourage births. If the economy is slowing down, they may opt for policies that motivate females to return to the workforce to help stimulate the economy.
Governments will have their own ideologies but will also vary their approach and perspective according to needs of society at the time. Governments know that the family in all its diverse structure is important for society and will always strive to strengthen it as much as possible.
Health Care is a very important aspect of Social Policy. Not only is health care part of the overall wellbeing of citizens but there is also an economic argument based on the promotion of good health and spending on such services. Healthy citizens are more productive and require fewer resources in terms of spending on health care. A healthy society also has healthy children who can attend school and learn. There are also less diseases and illnesses that may be contagious within a healthy society. Overall, effective health policies can bring benefits that will serve to improve society in every way.
These benefits are the main reason why Health Policies are an essential part of Social Policy and these include both policies related to prevention and the actual provision of care. Rationally, policies can be developed following analysis of the current health issues that exist within the society, including any problematic patterns and an analysis of the effectiveness of the current services being provided.
A rational analysis of the current health situation is essential for social policies to be formulated in a way so as to contribute towards understanding causes of health concerns as well as to rectify situations of health inequalities within societies. Health policies must be designed with various people in mind. Such differences include age, income, ethnicity and gender. In many societies, there is a link between poverty and poor health and such links must be studied so that policies can be formulated to tackle such issues of inequality.
Social Policy must also analyse individual lifestyle choices within society that affect health such as smoking and alcohol habits, poor dietary choices and lack of exercise. Through effective policies and promotion, these habits can be improved upon to contribute to better health in society.
Health care provision takes both the form of acute care and prevention care. These are provided by the state, by the private sector and through the informal sector (through volunteers and the family itself). The formal sector is made up of professional, multi-disciplinary professionals and care is provided in hospitals, institutions and in the community. The informal sector is made up mainly of carers who do not receive a pay, mostly female family members.
Policies that aim to maintain health are different to those who aim to restore health. Although main importance is given to health care that focuses on health restoration, health maintenance should be given importance since such policies can effectively reduce the need for health restoration care. Many health care issues are preventable and health policies need to address these issues. Targets need to be established to achieve certain improvements in the health care sector such as reducing rates of occurrence of certain health problems, to ensure early detection of symptoms and the promotion of health education in general.
Health maintenance strategies can take two approaches – strategies to educate society and focus on lifestyle changes and strategies that regulate approaches that serve to reduce risk for citizens and improve living conditions in general.
An important aim of health policies is the treatment and support of the ill through health services provision. When one considers that many countries have an aging population and that knowledge, techniques and therapies have vastly developed, demand for health care is always increasing. This creates pressures on governments in relation to funding and prioritizing. Governments also have to formulate policies on community care provisions as well as the best way to provide such services in a way that best adapts to the current needs found in society.
Health Care is funded through a variety of ways, mainly through a combination of national insurance contributions, taxes and private insurance. Each country has its own combination of funding health care and the level of public spending on health care varies from country to country.
In countries where Health Care is mainly funded by the government, it has control over how the services are allocated but in such situations, demand almost always exceeds supply leading to long waiting lists and public assumptions related to under spending as well as misuse of funds. Based on this, governments frequently review their health services to become more efficient and managerial. Such reforms include moving responsibility from central government towards community agencies where possible, the setting of strict budgets on expenditure, collaborations with the private sector, the introduction of competition amongst suppliers, the concentration on providing core services, strengthening of management practices and an increase in communication with the service user.
Health Care is always found on the political agenda of a country since there is a continuous search for improved health care policies to help with both the prevention of illness and the restoration of health. Such debates will obviously have various points of view since there is a different in how each political ideology approaches health care. Policies that are more leftist will focus on the reduction of inequalities that exist in life whilst rightist policies will focus more on the changing of individual behaviour and lifestyles, making the individual a primary role in the improvement of their health.
Debates will also focus on the extent of regulatory controls in health care and on how to evaluate the effectiveness of the current policies and health care services being offered. Campaigns on the effective use of primary care are also important so as to help reduce the waiting lists at the hospitals. Many people tend to go to hospital immediately rather than first go through the primary care channels.
When Health Care is funded by taxes, debates will always include priorities and which services should be funded. Issues of public health assessments and evaluations are also important to ensure high quality, effective care is given. It is important to ensure that local communities are involved in health care.
As time passes, the issue of how to finance public health will continue to be discussed. There is room for an increased private sector involvement to help public health and this could take the form of public-private partnerships. More policies dealing with inequalities are also needed and this goes hand in hand with various social policies that help to minimize poverty and low standards of living as well as access to adequate housing.
A major challenge for social policy is to evaluate how effective health care is, especially when reforms are introduced as well as the improvement levels related to equality, availability, choice and efficiency.
Most countries are experiencing an aging population and so, this becomes one of the main focuses of social policy. Welfare provisions for senior citizens include pension provision, health care and social security contributions. Senior citizens are often main recipients of social security and welfare and are often seen as deserving it. However, although most would agree with this notion, senior citizens are still sometimes viewed in a negative light and ageism is always increasing. There is a high association between elderly and ill health and this requires policy intervention to ensure discrimination does not occur. Key policies related to the elderly include pensions and social care.
Pensions are required to ensure that once a person reaches a certain age, they will not be required to rely on charity of others to survive. Today, modern policies also allow people who reach pensionable age to carry on working to improve their earnings if they are still fit to work. This is an important move especially when one considers that there are more elderly people than there are young people and this trend is likely to continue. Medically, this shows an improvement in lifestyle and care but economically, this is a serious burden that social policy needs to address by focusing on care and pension policies.
Many senior citizens remain active, some even contributing actively to the care of young family members. A major challenge for both senior citizens and the state is to ensure exclusion rather than inclusion is promoted. There are various issues related to pension age that leads to exclusion from society and at the same time, various social policies are designed to encourage employers to employ older people – both to avoid exclusion and to help with the employment issues related to an aging society. However, many people who lose their job in their fifties find it very difficult to find another job due to age discrimination and face issues related to poverty and even family breakdowns because of the pressure. This leads to a loss of skills in the labour market, less income tax paid to the government and more social benefits paid by the government. Many employers believe it is a waste of time to invest in an employee who is in their fifties. Many countries have legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age in many areas such as recruitment, training, wages, and terminations. Many governments also offer schemes where employers are helped to train such candidates for skills they may not have as well as helped in tax contributions.
Pensions are essential to ensure that once pensionable age is reached, the person does not end up in poverty and relying on charity. However, the main issue is the sustainability of the welfare system. Due to the ever increasing problem related to an aging population, many governments are finding it difficult to finance pensions and the retirement age is set to keep increasing as time goes by. In many countries, the pension received is not enough for a basic living and many people on pensions end up living in almost poverty. Combined with this is the issue of a higher pensionable age – there is a higher risk of a person ending up unemployed the older they get and when the pensionable age is increased, this means it takes longer for a person to start receiving a pension and may have to spend many years unemployed. Another issue that leads to poverty in old age stems from the traditional family roles where the male was the breadwinner and the female the homemaker. In such situations, it is the male who receives the pension and should the female end up being widowed, the widow’s pension given is rarely enough to survive on it alone without additional sources of income or savings.
Although it is a common assumption that senior citizens are physically dependent, the majority is in fact independent and able and only a small percentage live in residential care homes. However, when it comes to long-term care, it is still mainly senior citizens who need it and social policy must be designed to help provide such care, especially in societies when such care is no longer necessarily available through the immediate family due to changes in family patterns.
The state provides a mixture of social policies in relation to long-term care. Included in this mix are residential homes, financial benefits for family members who care for older family members and care in the community services such as meals on wheels services, state carers and other such services.
Community care is on the increase – as time goes by governments are working on various benefits that can help the senior citizen to remain in their home as much as is possible by helping them out through various policies. Many countries offer senior citizens free or subsidized services on items such as public transportation and cultural places like museums. This helps the individual to have a more fulfilling life in society.
Social Policy in relation to senior citizens is always changing and adapting. It is obvious that what used to be considered as ‘elderly’ before, is not considered so ‘elderly’ now and many people in their sixties continue to work and contribute towards society. However, age discrimination exists and so it is important for social policy to be designed to help combat this. Pensions are becoming unsustainable and many countries are increasing the pension age.
Every government must work towards ensuring social inclusion for its senior citizens as well as ensure that they do not fall below the poverty line because of issues related to unemployment and amount received as pension. Health care is also something for governments to consider and this can be done in hospitals, residential homes as well as in the community. The level of support the family can give its own older members is decreasing due to changing family patterns so it becomes even more crucial for governments to have dependable social policies to ensure an adequate life for its senior citizens.
There are various social problems that are specifically associated with young people. For example, across the world, there are many young people who are unemployed and others who are homeless. Youth crime and delinquency also features heavily in various places including crimes related to stealing, assault, drug use and vandalism. The rate of teenage pregnancy as well as issues related to sexually transmitted diseases also requires certain policies. Issues related to education such as illiteracy, lack of interest in continuing school and truancy are other social issues related to youth. All such problems are interlinked and one generally brings the other. In a sense, youth is both the victim and the villain in relation to all such issues.
Social Policy and Welfare needs to be designed with these issues of youth in mind. Decisions on approach have to be taken. For example, the state must decide what policy to take as regards to young offenders – is it a case for prison or social care? When it comes to Health Promotion, what approach can be taken to teach youth about all the health dangers that exist from various practices related to promiscuity or drug use?
It is important for policy makers to understand that their audience is young people and so policy interventions must be there to somehow, improve their lives and their future and must make sense for those it is intended for. For example, policy interventions to help with unemployment can be that of guiding students towards staying in school longer to achieve higher qualifications and promote a culture of continuous learning and training.
With young people, it is not the social policies themselves that are important. It is also how they are perceived by the young people themselves and how they feel they are changing their lives. After all, young people are strongly affected by all the other changes going on in the society they live in – changes in family structures, family breakdowns and changes in working patterns for example.
Social Policy must also be there for the most vulnerable young people in society – those who are in care and rely on welfare to survive. Here, Social Policy must serve to help young people from poverty, victimization, abuse, homelessness, crime, early pregnancy and a life in prison.
Young people are at the stage when they are no longer children but not yet adults. Social Policy must help define this – are young people treated as adults or as children when they commit a crime? Are young people entitled to social security benefits or must they first become an adult, leaving them dependent or caregivers who may or may not exist? This is also the sensitive time of the school to work transition where the young face new responsibilities and freedoms that were not there before.
Social Policy must focus on options for young people when it comes for them to choose their path after finishing compulsory education. It is the aim of most governments to have a highly skilled and educated workforce and most policies work towards motivating young people to stay in school to achieve qualifications of various sorts so that this can help them to find better employment.
Other policies related to education focus on apprenticeship schemes and internship opportunities where students are given the opportunity of participating in youth schemes where they are given opportunities of working whilst studying. This helps young people enter the world of work slowly and when it comes for them to start working full-time, they will not find themselves unqualified and / or inexperienced. Training schemes that teach job skills are also important – CV writing, attending interviews, how to look for jobs are all skills that young people need to have to be able to be successful in their job hunt.
The impact of education policies is strong however, governments must not forget young people who are not able to continue studying or further their training. Reasons for these could be various – including upbringing and family patterns as well as economic need to find work immediately or issues related to disabilities. These groups are more likely to remain unemployed and rely on social security benefits and social policy must be designed to reach such young people as well.
Young people are affected by the family policies that exist within society. Family policy is already a complex group of policies and when the life of young people are involved, it can become even more complex. For example, family policy contains a mixture of care for young people – care in the family and care offered by the state when the family ceases to offer the care required.
When it comes to family life, young people often face a different reality than is considered as ‘traditional’ – changes in culture and employment patterns have an influence in the family and on young people. Many young people are getting married much later than previous generations and cohabitation is increasing. When planned, parenting is also being done when older. In reality, this has extended the time a person is considered a ‘youth’. If in previous generations, a young person got married, started working or caring for the home and had a child whilst still in their twenties, they were considered as living the lives of adults. If someone of the same age still lives at home, live alone or cohabites, many still studying and with plans to have children not imminent, then the pattern leads to an extension youth. This is especially relevant when due to extended education, there is still financial dependency on family.
However, not all families can help out with youth who are still financial dependent. Some family structures cannot cope and this may lead many young people in these situations to leave education in pursuit of a full-time job. In cases of extreme problems, some young people even run away from home to try and build a life away from the problems they face. Social Policy must be designed to help in such situations.
Many young people are cared for outside of a family context. Many young people are brought up in state homes or in foster care. Social Policy must be designed to ensure such young people are cared for and not ending up victims of abuse and with little access to various opportunities in society. Many young people are moved from foster home to foster home, sometimes being separated from their siblings. This brings with it psychological trauma apart from practical issues such as moving from school to school, making learning and settling down impossible. Many end up not attending school on a regular basis which leads to problems with qualifications and eventually may lead to unemployment and high probability or teenage pregnancies and a life of crime to cope with the issues of everyday life where no support can be found.
In times of high social and economic change, Social Policy must ensure that through its intervention, young people are cared for and helped to access education and training opportunities to help them achieve independence and employment. They must also be supported when they need care because of family problems. Social exclusion of young people must be tackled and social policy must ensure it does not fail the youth for they are the families and citizens of tomorrow. Their education, training, employment, care and housing needs must be tackled and coordinated, especially when they fall under different departments in government agencies. Policy failures in this area can lead to frustrated individuals, dependent on care who feel they have lost opportunities and wasted their live.
Social Ideologies and perspectives are ideas about how social policies and welfare are to be formulated and applied. It is all about having a point of view about which one feels that their arguments and judgments are closer to how things should be than others. Usually, this would be more than simply about one particular issue or area in social policy but about ideas on wider issues relating to family and individual life, rights and duties of citizens, role of the state and other such ideas. This point of view will then be applied into perspectives on how social policy should be constructed and how ideals can be turned into practice.
The Neo-Liberal Perspective is linked with struggle for freedom against absolute authority. Social Policy is seen as a framework for upholding core values such as a competitive market economy rather than a state controlled one. This perspective believes that democracy can be achieved through a system where everyone can have ownership and be present in the economy. This perspective also believes that society needs a rule of law and a strong constitution to limit the power of governments.
This perspective considers the role of Social Policy as that of creating structures where the free market can work. For example, hospitals can be privatized to ensure efficient use of resources. The person is seen as the custodian of their own life and that they should lead a life of thinking, learning and choosing their own path. Apart from economical liberties, there are other elements that are required for society to be free such as moral issues. This perspective mistrusts authority and has confidence that there is a higher potential for progress in a free market economy.
The Conservative Perspective looks at Social Policy as something that should adjust to human nature rather than human reasoning. This means that opinions and styles that have been around for a long time are to be given importance in the setting up of policy. This does not mean that social reforms are not to be considered but that order and continuity are very important for societies. This perspective will look towards the formulation of policies that will promote traditional values and ways of life, believing that society will be better off this way.
The Socialist Perspective believes that the Capitalist economic model cannot meet basic welfare needs for all people and that only public services along with strictly regulated private services can provide such welfare. This perspective also believes that capitalism sustains social inequalities and class divisions through competitive individualism.
This perspective looks at Social Policy as a means of using welfare to reduce social inequality through societal responsibility such as the provision of public education. In the nineteenth century, workers’ movements were organised to protect certain worker rights and these continued to develop as time went by to cover certain areas such as injury benefits, health care and unemployment benefits.
Poverty and unequal distribution of wealth, income and education opportunities creates issues of conflict and crime and affects society in general. This perspective focuses on Social Policy as a way of ensuring an equal society, social justice, fair welfare distribution.
Social Welfare is associated mainly with the state and its contributions. However, historically a very important contribution to welfare distribution came from within the family itself and from the voluntary sector, both mainly dominated by female providers.
In previous times, policy makers had always assumed that males would be the family breadwinners whilst the females would be the carers and homemakers and that all marriages will be stable. However, social trends of the last decades have led to increases in female participation in the workforce, an increase in family breakdowns and an increase in births outside of marriage. The feminist perspective holds that these changes have had a more negative effect on females than on males.
Post-War Feminist perspectives in the 1970s criticized certain social policies as promoting a certain type of domestic life as well as the fact that jobs mainly available for females were similar to what they were traditionally expected to be doing as home such as child care and elderly care. Such jobs had low pay and low status. At this time, the Feminist perspective considered the family as a site for female oppression since welfare and social security for females were stopped when they got married or were in a cohabiting relationship – because of the assumption that the male would provide for the female.
More recent feminist policy analysis discusses how the whole of society is gendered – that there are still ‘male’ jobs and ‘female’ jobs and there is still a difference in status and pay.
This perspective looks at social policy as a means that must emphasize the importance of rights and equal opportunities. Specific social policies discussed include issues related to reproduction and domestic violence, the importance of work flexibility, glass ceiling issues and issues related to status and of non-dependence on males.
Industrialism and capitalism are economic systems that tend to affect the environment. Consequences that can be seen include various examples such as that of increased pollution and deforestation. Over the last few decades there has been an increased concern for environmental issues up to the point where such issues are now found on the agenda of the world’s leading nations and are no longer only the interest of various pressure groups. The main argument of this perspective is that we need to take care of our world for future generations.
This perspective focuses on policies related to issues of sustainability, environmental problems, issues of insufficient food to feed the population, animal rights and other such issues. The Green Perspective looks at Social Policy as a means of reducing the negative effects to the planet through various actions and changes that need to be taken such as changes in consumption patterns and other lifestyle changes. Radical changes are not always received well by people who would be used to a certain lifestyle.
Green Social Policy is not only about radical change but also about practical reforms that can be reached slowly in partnership with industry. The aim of this is to solve environmental problems and still have economic growth.
Social Policy focuses on social action that can lead to improvements in the lives of people in society. An important part of Social Policy is the organisation of the welfare system to ensure needs in society are met in relation to issues such as health care, housing and basic needs. Apart from Welfare, Social Policy also looks at social problems that exist in society to understand what issues need to be tackled. Once the social problems have been established, social needs become clearer and social policies can be formulated to tackle them through various measures.
Social Welfare includes all social measures taken to address the needs of individuals and groups in society with the aim of tackling social problems that exist in that society. Social Welfare is still mainly associated with government provisions. However, in most societies, there are various means of social welfare provision beyond those offered by the government. These include informal welfare, usually provided by the inner circle of the receiving individual, private provisions that work in the free market which are provided against a cost for the provision and through non-governmental organisations that include voluntary organisations and charities.
Social Policy looks at how each of these welfare providers affect the lives of individuals and groups that seeks their help and receive their services. It looks at the type of welfare needed, by whom and who should provide such welfare.
Society is continuously undergoing various changes that bring with it changes in social problems, social needs and so, a change in welfare needs. The structure of families is changing, life expectancy is increasing whilst birth rates are decreasing and most countries are experiencing an aging society. Many households now need welfare services that might have previously been taken care of within the family. This includes aspects such as child care and care for elderly family members. This requires a higher need for welfare to be provided in a structured environment provided either by the state, by the private sector or by non-governmental organisations. In actual fact, the modern family (whatever its structure) requires more welfare than in the past – mainly because it itself is providing less welfare to its own.
Society has seen a shift in various working patterns as well as economic pressures. Historically, as people move from agricultural work towards industrial work, welfare needs also changed with it. Today, the role of many non-governmental organisations is to help with needs that have been created by a change in lifestyle. Market economies sometimes create the need for welfare since many people might not be able to cope or function in an individualistic society. Both governments and non-governmental organisations often serve as a safety net for those who could not cope alone. All the Welfare providers – government, non-governmental organisations, market and families all co-exist in one society. Over time, both their role and scope may change but all have a contribution to give. Regulations and monitoring from the government are also continuously increasing to ensure services are provided as they should be.
Meeting social needs is the aim of social welfare. Social Policy must be formulated to ensure that it is meeting actual needs and not ‘wants’ or ‘preferences’. It must also be focused – sometimes individuals may need something but not ‘want’ it or ‘actively seek it’ and yet these needs still need to be addressed. For example, certain individuals or groups in society may need to be helped when it comes to issues such as health eating choices. Although the people who need such services may not seek it, social policy still needs to be formulated to achieve these needs by introducing healthy eating sessions in schools so children understand its importance.
Needs are not easy to establish, especially when they can be confused by wants and preferences. Ways of establishing needs are either by being felt by the individual / group, by being expertly defined or by being established through comparative studies with other individuals in the same group.
A Social need is ‘social’ because it is not focused only on an individual but issues which are spread over individuals and groups within society. These issues can include poverty, illness, illiteracy, unemployment – this is what is meant by needs established through comparative studies.
Social needs are an important focus for social policy. There needs to be systems of how to measure need, especially when the problem is intangible. How is ‘poverty’ established for example? Social Policy
frameworks establish what basic essentials are and work to establish that. However, in modern society, what are the basic essentials? Is a mobile phone essential? Is having a car essential? Is having a diet that includes protein essential? In the case of poverty, Social Policy also finds that some people adjust better than others and so do not seem to be as in ‘need’ as others in the same position.
There is an issue of measurement in Social Policy since many times, the definition of a need can be seen in a subjective way – from individuals perspectives whilst it can also be seen objective from a more structured viewpoint.
Social Welfare is also concerned with Social Problems. Social Problems are closely related to Social Needs which tend to become classified as ‘problems’ once the need becomes widespread and shared by many in the same society. Once a social need becomes established as a social problem, it increases in ‘importance’ – in the sense that it moves to the political field where both the government and opposition discuss the problem as part of their agenda. Such problems are also discussed by the public as well as various concerned pressure groups that form to tackle the ‘problem’. In today’s society, mass media, including social networking can also have an influence in defining what a social problem is since perception influences judgment in these areas.
Social problems may not be seen as problems by everyone. For example, some problems such as epidemics and diseases are defined as problems by the majority. However, other issues which are more related to values may not be defined as a problem by all. For example, for some, the fact that there may be an increase in relationship breakdowns leading to many single parent households might be a social problem which needs to be tackled whilst for others, it may be seen as a new family structure that needs specific social policies to help it function.
Blame also features in the issue of social problems. There is frequently a lack of agreement in society regarding social problems which are deemed by some as ‘being brought upon themselves’. In these cases, there are usually open debates as to whether these social problems should be given priority. For example, frequently one hears debates about individuals serving time in prison for a crime they were found guilty of committing. Some people may consider these individuals as ‘deserving’ the problem they are facing whilst others will actively work to ensure social policy also helps these individuals irrespective of blame.
Social Welfare is continuously evolving to meet the social needs and tackle the social problems faced by society at the time. Social Policy is there to define needs and problems and measure the gap between what is and what should be to ensure policy is formulated to achieve what is should achieve. Social Policy works hand in hand with the political and social institutions in society to ensure social welfare is received by those who are in need of it.