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Notes | Approaches in Social Policy

How is social policy devised?

It comes from the identification of, and aims to have an effect on: 

  1. Social Issues

  2. Social Problems

  3. Social Groups

Social Issues

Changes occur in terms of politics, economics, demographics: Norms and values and their affects on the societal structures: For example, divorce is not just a breakdown of two people in a relationship, but also a reflection of the socially determined context of laws and norms. Issues must, therefore, be understood in terms of wider factors and responses (in the control sense) are made to stop norms altering or (in the liberation sense) change the norms to suit the group. 

Social Problems

The impetus behind social policy can often be to counteract social problems. Social problems could be the misuse of drugs (Tackling Drugs Together 1996), poverty (Social Exclusion Unit 1999) or unemployment (New Deal 1997). The temptation for plaster therapy can occur, without redressing cause – little belief in prevention methodology. Government ideology is critical; religious impact is often a consideration: example, an ideology that suggests homosexuality is deviant will therefore deem homosexuality to be a social problem. In most cases, the definition’ of a social problem is not value-free and is usually ideology-driven.

Social Groups

Principally focused on different groups in society. This could be older people, young men, or ex-offenders. However, this is formulated around the other two motivations behind social policy. For example, it may take a ‘social problem’ or ‘social issue’ to bring to light the needs of gay young men. Question marks arise with social group policy: spreading resources, integration vs. segregation, and nationalism vs. pluralism. (See, for example, Parekh 2000).

Adapted from: Alcock, P. (ed.) (2000) The Students Companion to Social Policy, Oxford: Blackwell

Some Ideological Perspectives on Welfare/Social Intervention

Fabian Socialism: - fits between reluctant collectivists and Marxists. Three central values: equality, freedom and fellowship, two derivative values: democratic participation (equality and freedom) and humanitarianism (equality and fellowship).

The case for equality: social integration, economic efficiency, natural justice and individual self-regulation.

Case for social integration creates a climate of shared norms: less deviance from shared norms or a sense of belonging. In the case of Owusu, K. (2000) the double consciousness of those outside the ‘norms’ accurately describes how deviation can occur when people are oppressed or rejected from common goals. Again, this relates to identity and the creation of a pluralist perspective on state intervention. Overall, FS believe that this will protect social order – belonging represses rebellion.

Case for economic efficiency; production of cake for the few, before bread for all – responding to demand prior to need is ineffective – market forces? Waste of labor talent? The free market is designed often to pursue wealth with relative economic freedom. This can have implications for the resources that are actually needed and indeed, the regulation of the economy.

Case for natural injustice: denial of natural rights – distribution of educational services, accidents at birth (creating a better opportunity by default for certain groups in society)  – parental income etc. The assumption behind this case is that all human beings should have rights from birth. Socialism, therefore, is concerned more with equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

New Right/Anti-Collectivism:Minimal state intervention, individual to make choices about “buying” services.

Fundamental social values: freedom, individualism and inequality. “We take freedom of the individual, or perhaps the family, as our ultimate goal in judging social arrangements” (Friedman in George & Wilding 1985:19). Negatively, this provokes an absence of coercion. Greater freedom can result in the under- serving of others, opening pushing up competition for resources. Prima facie claim to freedom; see Functionalist perspectives that enforce this ideology. Interdependency with the market system will make freedom a principle achievement. It prevents the interference of others on the individual, but can isolate those who are oppressed. Capital ideology is principally concerned with stabilizing the market economy and ensuring control, status quo.

Why is Ideology an important context within which to study this discipline?

Ideology is the starting point of a social policy discussion. Example of a social policy/legislation starts at the basis of a belief of what is ‘good’ or what is ‘right’ for society, and social policy is the method used to transport this to the masses.

For example, it can be argued that the social policy initiatives targeted at youth work increase during times of ‘perceived social problems’ such as low youth employment, high pregnancies among young people.

In the event of a very negative legislative base, we can examine the laws that prevent ‘the promotion of homosexuality’ in schools and other educational institutes. This law is known as "Section 28".

Connections for Section 28:

Overall ideology: The Capitalist ideology requires the family to be a strong starting base for individual freedom, ergo man works; woman brings up children.

Anything that fits outside of the economic norm will be labeled deviant. Deviance can result in capital and economic questions about the distribution of wealth.

The Homosexual becomes a second-class citizen under this ideology. In order to re-enforce this label theory, legislation is designed to support the economic ideology based on myths that support psychological issues of disgust, fear and the unknown.  

Capital ideology is reinforced: blame is placed upon individuals through legislating against their deviance. The person becomes a product of inequality and therefore can be condemned for not participating fully in society.

Jason Wood, September 2001

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