Social policy is policy usually within a governmental or political setting, such as the welfare state and study of social services.
Social policy consists of guidelines, principles, legislation and activities that affect the living conditions conducive to human welfare, such as a person's quality of life. 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", which 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. 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 discussion of 'social policy' in the United States and Canada can also apply to governmental policy on social issues such as tackling racism, LGBT issues (such as same-sex marriage) and the legal status of abortion, guns, euthanasia, recreational drugs and prostitution. In other countries, these issues would be classified under health policy and domestic policy.
The study of social policy can either be a specialization as part of a public policy degree, such as at McGill University, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Harris School of Public Policy, and the Hertie School of Governance, or as a stand alone degree in social policy such as the University of York, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
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 zakat 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 following the Industrial Revolution. Surveys of poverty exposing the brutal conditions in the urban slum conurbations of Victorian Britain supplied the pressure leading to changes such as the decline and abolition of the poor law system and Liberal welfare reforms. Other significant examples in the development of social policy are the Bismarckian welfare state in 19th century Germany, social security policies in the United States introduced under the rubric of the New Deal between 1933 and 1935, and the National Health Service Act 1946 in Britain.
Social policy in the 21st century is complex and in each state it is subject to local and national governments, as well as supranational political influence. For example, membership of the European Union is conditional on member states' adherence to the Social Chapter of European Union law clarify][
Social policy aims to improve human welfare and to meet human needs for education, health, housing and economic security. Important areas of social policy are wellbeing and welfare, poverty reduction, social security, justice, unemployment insurance, living conditions, animal rights, pensions, health care, social housing, family policy, social care, child protection, social exclusion, education policy, crime and criminal justice, urban development, and labor issues.
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