An introduction to Social Policy

Paul Spicker

Social Policy

This website is an introduction to the study of social services and the welfare state. In general terms, it looks at the idea of social welfare, and its relationship to politics and society. More specifically, it also considers:

This site is a free, educational resource outlining the main issues.


Social Policy

The name of 'social policy' is used to refer to the policies which governments use for welfare and social protection, to the ways in which welfare is developed in a society, and to the academic study of the subject. In the first sense, social policy is particularly concerned with social services and the welfare state. In the second, broader sense, it stands for a range of issues extending far beyond the actions of government - the means by which welfare is promoted, and the social and economic conditions which shape the development of welfare.

The politics of welfare

This section looks at contrasting ideas about politics and welfare, including the role of government and public action.  The second part looks at the influence of key values, such as individualism, freedom, rights and religious values.

Welfare states

States and welfare states, 2022This section is concerned with the provision of welfare in different countries.

Welfare and society

Social policy draws on sociology to explain the social context of welfare provision. If we are trying to improve people's welfare, it is helpful to try to understand something about the way that people are, and how welfare policies relate to their situation. Some writers have gone further, arguing that because welfare takes place in a social context, it can only be understood in that context.

Social policy and interpersonal relations

The way people live is social, and some aspects of social policy regulate the ways that people relate to each other.  There are rules affecting birth, marriage, death, and many things in between.   This section considers some difficult and contentious issues.

Welfare and equality

Inequality is not difference. Saying that people are unequal is saying that some are disadvantaged relative to others; inequality is disadvantage in a social context. The main inequalities in society are class, gender, race and inequalities in income and wealth.

Social administration

Social Policy is an applied subject; it was developed to meet the needs of people who would be working in the public services. Social administration is the area of the field concerned with the practicalities of service organisation and delivery. In the US, it is dealt with as 'public policy' or 'policy analysis'.

Social need

The idea of need refers at times to problems, at other times to the responses that services might make; for practical purposes, a need is a claim for service.  This section looks at some of the main categories of need that lead people to  rely on social service provision.


Poverty has often been described in terms of low income and resources, but this does not capture the huge range of issues which it touches.  'Poverty' may refer to material conditions - needing goods and services, multiple deprivation, or a low standard of living; economic position - low income, limited resources, inequality or low social class; and the social position of the poor, through lack of entitlement, dependency or social exclusion.

The social services

Several pages on this website deal more specifically with the social services  -  systems  of organisation that deal with essential needs for health care, housing, education, social work and financial support.

The social policy of the United Kingdom

How to fix the welfare state, 2022The 'welfare state' in Britain was intended to put welfare provision on a new footing, breaking away from its past.  This section outlines the structures that have developed since.

History of British social policy 1601-1948

This is a mainly chronological outline of developments in British social policy up to 1948. The Poor Law lasted, in one form or another, for 350 years, and accounts of British social policy tend in consequence to be dominated by the role of government.

Social services in the UK

This site has not been set up as an introduction to British social services, but there are sections in many pages which can be read as an introduction to British social policy.

The website

Information about this site.


Some advice about studying social policy, and where to find other material.