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social policya field of study which entails the economic, political, sociolegal and sociological examination of the ways in which central and local governmental policies affect the lives of individuals and communities. Social policy is notoriously difficult to define and its use varies between authors. The term is often, though mistakenly, used in the context of SOCIAL ADMINISTRATION to refer to the institutionalized services provided by the WELFARE STATE, viz. housing, health, education, social security, personal social services and, in some cases, law. This approach to the study of social policy probably has its origins in the social policy courses introduced to train social workers. Authors who use this version of social policy do so to refer to the ways in which the state has assumed some social responsibility by intervening in a market economy to promote individual welfare. This type of discussion has led to enquiries about the distribution of goods and services and has, falsely distinguished sharply between social policy and economic policy
There are a number of criticisms of this use of the term:
- it lacks any theoretical analysis which precludes any sociological discussion of why policies are introduced and the unintended effects of their introduction;
- it leads to a conflation of social policy with the welfare state yet social policies occur outside the welfare state. As Titmuss argued, apartheid in South Africa is a social policy Similarly, aspects of welfare lie outside the welfare state. Titmuss demonstrated, for example, that there are occupational welfare benefits such as pension schemes, help with housing and health costs, and so on, which some individuals receive from their employment;
- it often leads to a parochial concern with a ‘history of legislations’ in a particular country and precludes the possibility of comparative analysis.
In the 1970s, a more critical approach to social policy developed which was informed by accompanying developments in sociological theory In particular, Marxist and feminist sociologists developed new accounts of the relationship between social policies and the social structure.
Some authors have argued that the early sociologists had no interest in social policy. However, others have argued that a concern with social policy is implicit in the works of Durkheim, Marx and Weber.
Following the import of new and critical ideas about social policy its scope has been widened to include the comparative study of social policies in different societies. There has also been a renewed interest in the philosophical issues within the study of social policy such as the nature of JUSTICE, citizenship, NEEDS, etc. See also SOCIAL REFORM, SOCIAL PROBLEMS.