The term ‘social policy’ can refer to:

  1. regulatory measures (guidelines, principles, legislation and activities ) intended to ensure or effect the well-being of a society and its constituent members;
  2. an interdisciplinary1 field of study and (applied) practice that is concerned with societies’ responses to social need2, such as are manifest in the structure and provisioning of health care, human services, criminal justice, inequality, education, and labor”.3

Collectively, social policy is focused on those aspects of the economy, society and/or polity that are necessary to human existence and the means by which distribution of, and access to, goods and resources in that society are be provided.4 Basic human needs include: 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.5 Individual manifestations of ‘social policy’ (e.g. a particular law, decree, or regulatory requirement) tend to apply to specific issues, such as policies requiring prior consultation with local community members before commencing a new development initiative.

Despite drawing on an increasing amount of the theoretical work and field experiences across countries and sectors—and despite collaborations among social development practitioners being increasingly methods-oriented and systematised—social policy is often viewed critically as culpable in the often disastrous social consequences of the development process (Carroll 2009; Gray 2010).

Notes & Citations

Additional References

World Bank. “Definitions”.

  1. Social policy is an area of specialize inquiry across several social science disciplines, including economics, sociology, psychology, geography, history, law, philosophy and political science.

  2. London School of Economics (LSE), Department of Social Policy. n.d. “What is social policy?” 

  3. Harvard University, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy. 2012. “About the Malcolm Wiener Center”. 

  4. Cheyne, Christine, Mike O’Brien and Michael Belgrave. 2005. Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Critical Introduction [p. 3] 

  5. London School of Economics (LSE), Department of Social Policy. n.d. “About Us” [webpage]