What is Social Policy?
When I tell people I teach Social Policy, a fairly common response is 'Oh! . . . [pause]. What's that exactly?' Social Policy textbooks have sometimes suggested that Social Policy is hard to define. Or else they have contended there is something 'confusing' about the distinction to be drawn between Social Policy as an academic subject on the one hand and the specific outcomes of the social policy-making process on the other; or about whether Social Policy is an interdisciplinary 'field of study', rather than a social science discipline in its own right (Alcock 2008 ). For my part, however, I don't find the question difficult at all. Social Policy is the study of human wellbeing, to which there can be two kinds of response:
So it's all about doing good for people?
So it must be about pretty much everything really?
The answer to both comments is 'Well, yes and no'. More specifically, Social Policy entails the study of the social relations necessary for human wellbeing and the systems by which wellbeing may be promoted or, for that matter, impaired. You may have noticed that I choose the word 'wellbeing' rather than 'welfare' and I shall return to my reasons for this later in the chapter. In using the term wellbeing, however, I am focusing not on how people 'fare' (on their goings or doings), but on their 'being' (on the essence of their lives). Social Policy is about the many and various things that affect the kinds of life that you and I and everyone can live. Think for a moment about the things you need to make life worth living: essential services, such as healthcare and education; a means of livelihood, such as a job and money; vital but intangible things, such as love and security. Now think about the ways in which these can be organized: by government and official bodies; through businesses, social groups, charities, local associations and churches; through neighbours, families and loved ones. Understanding these things is the stuff of Social Policy. In this chapter I aim to illustrate, first, the immense scale of the phenomena with which Social Policy is concerned, but also its quite specific nature; second, the fabulous diversity of the social scientific traditions on which Social Policy can draw, but also the strict rigour of its focus; third, the relevance of Social Policy to everybody's individual, everyday lives; but fourth, the importance of Social Policy to human society in general.
Before I begin, however, let me return just for one moment to the 'confusion' alluded to above between Social Policy, the subject, and the social policy or policies that are the object of our study. As I have already signalled in my Preface, I propose throughout this book to adopt a rather simple convention that is not in general use, but which may, I hope, allay confusion. When I refer to Social Policy with a capital 'S' and a capital 'P', I am writing about the academic study of social policy. When I refer to social policy with a lower-case 's' and a lower-case 'p', I shall be talking about the general or the particular policy or policies that have been determined in the fields of social security, health, education, social care and protection or - as you will see - in any number of spheres that may bear upon human wellbeing.
Hey, Big Spender!
Social Policy is concerned with much, much more than the things that governments spend our money on. Nevertheless, though it refers only to the visible tip of the Social Policy iceberg, the most conspicuous evidence of the importance of social policies is 'social spending'. If we take a country such as the UK, at a time of supposed fiscal austerity in the continuing aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007-8 (IMF 2009; Farnsworth and Irving 2015 ), the government planned in the 2018-19 tax year to devote roughly Pds. 572 billion to wha