Social policy primarily refers to guidelines, principles, legislation and activities that affect the living conditions conducive to human welfare. The Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics defines social policy as "an interdisciplinary and applied subject concerned with the analysis of societies' responses to social need. It seeks to foster in its students a capacity to understand theory and evidence drawn from a wide range of social science disciplines, including economics, sociology, psychology, geography, history, law, philosophy and political science. Social Policy is focused on those aspects of the economy, society and policy that are necessary to human existence and the means by which they can be provided. These basic human needs include: water, food, and shelter, a sustainable and safe environment, the promotion of health and treatment of the sick, the care and support of those unable to live a fully independent life; and the education and training of individuals to a level that enables them fully to participate in their society". The Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University describes social policy as "public policy and practice in the areas of health care, human services, criminal justice, inequality, education, and labor." Social policy might also be described as actions that affect the well-being of members of a society through shaping the distribution of and access to goods and resources in that society. Social policy often deals with wicked problems.
The earliest example of direct intervention by government in human welfare dates back to Umar ibn al-Khattāb's rule as the second caliph of Islam in the 6th century. He used zakah collections and also other governmental resources to establish pensions, income support, child benefits, and various stipends for people of the non-Muslim community.
In the West, proponents of scientific social planning such as the sociologist Auguste Comte, and social researchers, such as Charles Booth, contributed to the emergence of social policy in the first industrialised countries. Surveys of poverty exposing the brutal conditions in the urban slum conurbations of Victorian Britain supplied the pressure leading to changes such as the reform of the Poor Law and the welfare reforms carried out by the British Liberal Party. Other significant examples in the development of social policy are the Bismarckian welfare state in 19th century Germany, social security policies introduced under the rubric of the New Deal in the United States between 1933 and 1935, and health reforms in Britain following the Beveridge Report of 1942.
Social policy in the 21st century is complex and in each state it is subject to local, national and supranational political influence. For example, membership of the European Union is conditional on member states' adherence to the Social Chapter of European Union law and other international laws.
Social policy aims to improve human welfare and to meet human needs for education, health, housing and social security. Important areas of social policy are the welfare state, social security, unemployment insurance, environmental policy, pensions, health care, social housing, social care, child protection, social exclusion, education policy, crime and criminal justice.
The term 'social policy' can also refer to policies which govern human behaviour. In the United States, the term 'social policy' may be used to refer to abortion and the regulation of its practice, euthanasia, homosexuality, the rules surrounding issues of marriage, divorce, adoption, the legal status of recreational drugs, and the legal status of prostitution.
Social Policy is also an academic discipline focusing on the systematic evaluation of societies' responses to social need. It was developed in the early-to-mid part of the 20th century as a complement to social work studies. London School of Economics professor Richard Titmuss is considered to have established Social Policy (or Social Administration) as an academic subject and many universities offer the subject for undergraduate and postgraduate study. Other leading departments of Social Policy include the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, and The Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University.
- About the Malcolm Wiener Center, retrieved 15 July 2008, archive from 30 April 2012.
- Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Critical Introduction (2005) by Christine Cheyne, Mike O'Brien, & Michael Belgrave - Page 3
- Rittel, H. & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sci 4:155-169.
- Social Policy & Administration
- Titmuss, R. M. (1951) Problems of social policy. HM Stationery Office ISBN ?
- Dean, H. (2006). Social Policy. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-3434-0.