Social Policy is not an academic discipline. It is not a branch of sociology, social work or political science. It is neither the study of dismal social problems. Social Policy is a subject area: the study of human well-being and the ways in which a society attempts to achieve this well-being. Social Policy borrows on many social science disciplines including sociology, social work, psychology, economics, political science, management, history, philosophy and law.
The term "social policy" can be used to designate the policies which governments use for welfare and social protection. Nevertheless, as an academic topic, social policy has a huge scope since it relates to the ways in which well-being is promoted and provided in a society. It extends far beyond the actions of government, and includes social, cultural and economic conditions and interactions shaping the development of welfare.
Social Policy normally includes policies about education, health, social security and housing, all understood in their broadest meaning. It can include as well policies to provide full-employment, to protect the environment, to redress social deviants, to provide recreational activities or personal services.
Social policy can be achieved not only through government, but also through, family, non-profit organizations, local communities and churches or through the market, for example with mandatory private insurance coverage. Social policy also represents big bucks: in Canada and the UK, social policy represents around two-thirds of public spending (See Table on next page), and a quarter of gross domestic product. In the United States, Americans spend more on healthcare than on durable goods. It is not surprising that debates about the organization of social policy are often making the headlines.
Who gets what? Under which principles? Who is in control? Who pays? This course aims at answering these critical questions in a critical way. This course aims at providing a basic understanding of the debates about social policy by focusing on the context of the neo-liberal restructuring since the 1980s. Social policy is shifting from a dominant paradigm promoting universal social rights through the welfare state to a new dominant paradigm criticizing the waste of public funds and promoting individual responsibility.
This course is not a beginner’s course on social policy and will not simply discuss the workings of social programs in a catalogue form. Instead, the course will focus on some specific issues in order to analyze in greater depth the socio-political and economic debates surrounding the issues.
Source: Carleton syllabus below downloaded from