Social policy refers to government policies aimed at meeting the needs of society. It aims to influence how society is structured and influences the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of citizens.
The primary implementation areas of social policy are:
- social security,
- employment, and
- migration (Blakemore, 2003).
Examples of social policies include raising the minimum wage, reforming marriage law, and mandating a minimum school leaving age of 16 years of age.
A government’s social policy is interwoven with the social values it aims to promote. For example:
- A social democratic government may pursue social justice reforms, resource redistribution, and increased access to healthcare.
- An economically liberal government is traditionally concerned with pursuing efficient social policies that encourage economic activity in order to raise living standards.
Social Policy Examples
Unemployment support – Raising the amount of money people earn when on unemployment benefits, or linking unemployment benefits to job applications.
Housing – Zoning laws, laws about housing standards, and rent-to-own policies are all designed to promote home ownership for the middle and working classes.
Neighborhood renewal – Local governments are often concerned with social policies linked to ensuring people have access to greenspace, entertainment, and sporting facilities.
Child and family support – Many governments will implement child support programs like childcare support programs to help families deal with cost of living pressures and encourage parents to re-enter the workforce.
Job training – Governments often implement job training programs for the unemployed to give them the skills to work. These may be free or subsidized for candidates who meet a certain criteria.
Poverty reduction – Poverty reduction policies span a gammut of housing, food security, wealth redistribution, and subsidization plans. Governments may also provide economic incentives for businesses to employ people from impoverished backgrounds.
Pension schemes – Most societies recognize the need for support services for the elderly. Often, governments mandate pension schemes like the US-based 401K to encourage people to save for their retirements.
Schooling and education – Every country makes education mandatory for the young. This social policy ensures the workforce of the future is educated and can meet the challenges of the nation’s economy.
Public health policy – Health care systems are designed to improve the overall wellbeing of the people. Without government assistance and incentives, many parts of a society may miss out.
Disability services – Disabled people have unique needs that are often met through government programs. They may, for example, mandate building accessibility for all new buildings, and provide funds for people with disabilities to retrofit their homes for their needs.
Social Policy Case Studies
1. Unemployment support
Unemployment support is the money the state pays unemployed people regularly when they search for a job.
Unemployment supports take different names, such as unemployment benefits, unemployment insurance, unemployment payment, or unemployment compensation.
It is the state’s responsibility to protect citizens when they face loss of income and the threat of poverty because of unemployment.
This protection is among the human rights recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Employment Promotion and Protection Against Unemployment Convention, adopted in 1988.
There are criteria to be eligible for unemployment support. The eligibility issue has become more complex since the 1980s with the advance of globalization.
The socio-economic rationale behind the provision of this support is maintaining market and labor market stability, as well as preventing social unrest.
Housing policy concerns providing adequate and affordable housing for all citizens.
A home is central to human existence, immensely impacting an individual’s and a family’s living standards in terms of physical and mental health, income security and economic chances, integration in social life, educational achievements, integration of immigrants, and community development:
“Good housing also reduces long-term costs to society in other areas such as health, education, social assistance, and employment insurance” (Carter & Polevychock, 2004).
In other words, access to safe and stable housing is a key social determinant of health.
Housing is a major policy area in a world that is rapidly urbanizing but also facing economic and ecological problems. Even in the industrialized economies of the world (Global North), there are arising challenges before the provision of housing policy.
Among these are rising housing prices, stagnating wages, demographic pressures, and declining public investment in housing.
Although adequate housing is a human right, over 1 billion people live in slums in the Global South, missing the opportunities for an equal, healthy, safe, and decent living.
The growing social unrest in slums is the central theme in Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums, published in 2006.
3. Schooling and education
Education policy focuses on the public provision of universal education.
The development of public education indeed lies at the core of the emergence of social rights in the 19th century. The welfare state that arose after World War II provided universal education.
According to T.H. Marshall (1950), children should have equal educational opportunities to raise them to be civilized citizens able to make rational choices.
Education provides children with skills and future chances in the labor market and life. Lack of education or adequate education may cause financial insecurity.
Household poverty may be a reason for school dropouts and child labor when educational policy does not function well in coordination with other social policy dimensions.
The increasing number of private schools and the decreasing standards and investments for public schools have been challenging for general education.
This applies to colleges as well. Many students are now working and borrowing to get a degree as the tuition fees increase rapidly while public funds for college education and the number of scholarships decline.
4. Pension schemes
Pensions or pension schemes are retirement plans. During their retirement, people receive periodic payments from a fund in which money accumulates during people’s years of employment.
All workers and self-employed have the right to a pension. Pensions are meant to keep older people’s living standards up, to keep them out of poverty, and to prevent their social exclusion.
Older people, especially older women, face higher risks of poverty compared to the general population.
Older people are no longer active or are not as active in the labor market, but still need income for their living.
Pensions are the main source of income for them. In households headed by older people with children and grandchildren, benefits reach the larger family.
There is a transition, in this policy line, as well, from public-based pensions to market-based pensions (Ebbinghaus & Whiteside, 2012).
5. Poverty reduction
Poverty is a multidimensional issue. There are often class-based reasons behind it.
Poverty reduction means reducing or eradicating poverty through various policy measures. Poverty reduction requires the attention of governments, supported by civil society and international organizations.
Relief for the poor is an essential dimension of this policy. Unemployment and housing support, decent education and health services, and pension schemes are measures to keep people out of poverty.
Economic development, social protection, political empowerment, and social participation are part of the long-term solution.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are adopted to combat extreme poverty and provide a better future for all.
Social policy is an applied social action to manage social risks and maintain a society’s social protection system. It focuses on how societies around the world provide people’s basic requirements for security, education, job, health, and prosperity.
Social policy also deals with how society responds to universal challenges such as poverty and migration, as well as social, demographic, and economic change.
It manifests itself in areas of policy intervention that vary among political systems and countries.
National governments, the family, civil society, and international organizations have a role, albeit at differing levels according to the system, in the implementation of this social action.
Blakemore, K. (2003). Social policy: An introduction. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Carter, T., & Polevychok, C. (2004). Housing is good social policy. Canadian Policy Research Networks Incorporated. http://tdrc.net/resources/public/Report-04-12-HousingGood.pdf
Ebbinghaus, B., & Whiteside, N. (2012). Shifting responsibilities in Western European pension systems: What future for social models? Global Social Policy, 12(3), 266-282.
Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Popock, J. (1992). The ideal of citizenship since classical times. Queens Quarterly, 99 (1), 35–55.
Titmuss, R. (1958). Essays on ‘the welfare state’. London: Allen and Unwin.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]