An introduction to Social Policy

Social Policy: Theory and Practice - 3rd edition

Paul Spicker

About the website

This set of web pages offers a brief outline of key topics and issues in Social Policy. The Internet is an international medium, and although there are several pages about social policy in the UK the material has mainly been selected because of its international interest.  The topics covered are the sorts of issue which would be tackled in a university course in the subject.

The entries are short and designed to load quickly.  If you would like to know more, there are links to follow, reading lists and a page leading to much longer on-line readings.  

Introducing social policy

This website is one of the most widely used sites in the field of social policy internationally.  When I started it up, I had originally intended the pages to be for people who are beginning studies in Social Policy, and those who are thinking about it. Many more people than the original target audience have found the site helpful, and I have received notes from teachers and students around the world. Beyond that, I think it's true to say that the site has done a great deal to shape people's understanding of what Social Policy is about. My textbook explains, in greater detail, the architecture of the subject; but when I talk to people from different countries about Social Policy as an academic discipline, it's often the website that they're thinking of.

As the range of content, reading and references has increased, the scope of the site has broadened. New sections are being added every so often; the most recent are on populism, India (a contribution by Keerty Nakray) and gender and development.  I have also been slowly expanding the references to university-level reading from open access sources. I have added an on-line reading list linked to the subjects covered in Social Policy: Theory and Practice. The level of detail is necessarily less than a textbook would include, however, and students should be complementing what they read here with a range of other sources.

2.8 million users, 7.4 million page views

The site first came on line in May 2000. It was originally based at the University of Dundee, and was transferred to the Robert Gordon University in September 2001. Since July 2015 the site has been hosted independently on my own domain.

The site's first million page views were recorded in the four years to May 2004; it passed 3 million by the end of 2007, 5 million in 2011 and 7 million in 2016. The graph shows recent figures for visits, but the menu button can be used to show page views and other stats. The table shows five-year and annual totals.

Page views
Five years: Jan 2012 - Dec 2016 783,531
12 months: Jan 2016 - Dec 2016

The counts are not wonderfully reliable; see the technical notes later on this page.

The most popular page is now the page on social policy. For many years, the page on welfare states was the main entry point, but users now are just as likely to work through one of the top three or four pages on social policy, the UK, history or politics. It is still true that most people 'bounce' - that is, they look at only one page - but they spend a couple of minutes doing it.

There are users around the world. Internet domains often disguise the country of origin, but about a half the users come from the UK. Of the remainder, the principal users are in the USA, Canada, Australia, the European Union, South Africa, India and China.

Intellectual property

The author of these pages is Paul Spicker. The site is intended as an educational resource, and the pages are meant to be freely accessible, but the author retains copyright. No material in whole or in part from these pages may be modified, copied, reproduced,re-published, uploaded, posted, or distributed in any way. Subject to that, you are granted limited personal non-exclusive use of the materials within these pages, provided appropriate recognition of the origin of the materials is made.

Teachers are granted permission to make paper copies of text for use by their students, provided that

(a) no charge is made to students for the material,
(b) the material is taken from the page currently on display, and
(c) the source of the material is clearly acknowledged, with clear, detailed attribution of the beginning and ending of all quoted material and full acknowledgement of any summarised or paraphrased material.

Teachers who wish to use material from the site for their students on their own websites are asked to link to the material on this site rather than copying text from it into their own files. Please do not copy material from this site onto other sites with public access. That leads to internet searches sending people to old or outdated files which I cannot correct.

Please consult with the author about other uses.

I have had to put up the copyright message because of abuse. Some "cheat sites" have duplicated text from this website and are offering it for sale. It is unlikely that anyone who has found their way to this website would consider paying anyone for the material they can get here for free. I have no connection with these sites, and I have not endorsed or granted permission for any of the work contained on these pages to appear on such sites. Submission of information contained within these pages to such sites will be treated as an infringement of copyright.

Graphics and copyright

Many relevant graphics are unavailable because of copyright restrictions. Copyright resides in the person who makes the image, not the person represented. This means, for example, that a public domain image is available of Winston Churchill, who died in 1965, but not of John Maynard Keynes, who died in 1946. The rights to use different images are consequently complex. Copyright acknowledgements are given next to the images; images that are out of copyright are generally noted as such in the ALT text, which is visible when the mouse pointer hovers over the picture.

References: citing these pages

People who want to refer to the pages should cite them in the usual way. Common conventions for internet citations have not been established, but an appropriate reference might be something like this:

Referencing information, and the date when the file was last updated, can be found at the foot of each page.

Students who are using this site need to understand that it is not acceptable in any academic institution to copy out the material without acknowledging the source, even if you change some of the words. That would give the impression that you had read, selected and ordered the material yourself. Plagiarism takes in more than "copying"; it is the act of passing off other people's work as one's own. This happens

On the site you will also find further guidance on writing essays.  It was included in a previous edition of my book Social Policy.

Technical details

The format of the site has been revised more than once, mainly to meet the demands of different browsers and the search engines. The sections have been kept brief, so that they can comfortably be read on a computer screen, and the files are small and mainly text-based to allow rapid access. The main reason for putting several screens together in each file is speed: material can continue to load while people are reading.

The site was initially prepared with Dreamweaver, and at times I edit the text with Kompozer, but most alterations are actually made by direct editing. I have largely avoided scripts and more complex coding, because too many things do not work consistently on different devices or browsers, but on occasion I have used widgets from other providers.  All the HTML coding has been checked with HTML Tidy and there are no errors.

The needs of users have been central to the design. A series of marginal changes in the appearance of the site conceal some fairly drastic editing of the source code. Some elements of the layout have been compromised in order to meet accessibility standards. There are minor differences in appearance between browsers, but the style in each should be clear and consistent.

Things have got more complicated with the rise of tablets and mobile phone browsers.  It's been a challenge making the site accessible for mobile users, and particularly difficult to get graphics and tables to display well on a four-inch screen. I have cut down file sizes wherever I could; the increase in speed should be noticeable. The files are all small, and they should load rapidly - the largest file, on the Politics of Welfare, is 38Kb - but any text beyond a couple of paragraphs can seem lengthy on a phone. Please warn me if anything isn't as it should be.

The statistics for the website have been maintained through a variety of systems. From 2000-2009, the statistics were collected using my universities' services, but in 2007-08 the university system dropped out repeatedly; after that I used Google Analytics. Different systems count pages differently; beyond that I've redesigned the website more than once, cutting down the number of pages that a user had to load. Google's system leaves cookies on user's equipment, and I realised only belatedly that this site was not compliant with EU law as a result. I have now set up a different system on the website server, using Piwik. Piwik avoids the problems, and beyond that allows me to display some stats directly.


Accessibility for people with disabilities were initially checked with Bobby, an accessibility programme; it was compatible with their AAA rating. Bobby has now been superseded by WAVE, and the site has been checked with that.  There are three recurring issues that WAVE raises, but I have decided in each case not to comply with their advice:

  1. WAVE dislikes links to PDF files, because some PDFs are not themselves accessible.  Part of the purpose of this website is to guide people to sources of material in social policy, and providing online links to evidence and argument is important for much of what I am doing. I have generally signalled the use of such links in the text rather than adding more detailed guidance to every link.   As all such links occur in a box labelled "External link" or in a reading list, nothing in the text should take a visually impaired reader by surprise.
  2. WAVE objects that the website banner header has not been marked with a heading code.  If I follow their advice and treat these as H1 and H2 headers then either the more important content headers would have to be downgraded, or HTML checkers would report this as a coding error and source of confusion.  There is an alternative, which is to process the banner and title as a visual image: that would comply with WAVE's preference but would make the information less  accessible, not more.
  3. There is a <noscript> instruction  at the end of the file.  This is used by Piwik  to count  page views where users have specified  not to run Javascript.

Given the range of different users, it is difficult to be confident that there are no hidden traps; please report any you find.

Updating and review

The main aim of revision at this stage is to make the site as useful as possible to people studying and working in the field.   The coverage is being gradually expanded and refined.  In 2015 most of my efforts had to be devoted to transferring the system to a new host, but since then I have gradually added a range of new material - a page on Poverty and several new entries, including those on risk and vulnerability, income and wealth and the end of the Poor Law.  I have put a dateline on most pages so that people can see when the most recent revision has been made.

I use my blog on social policy to chart the fine grain of policy; it has allowed me, for example, to chart the progress of social security in the UK in a way I could not have done within the constraints of the main website. I blog two or three times a week, and the blog has had more than 700 entries to date. The blog entries are also mirrored on Twitter and on RSS, shown below. You can also follow the blog by receiving emails or on Wordpress.

RSS Feed Widget

This website also has an Open Access page where readers will find five of my books for free, and some 90 published papers.

Contacting the author

Supporting the website

As an Emeritus Professor I maintain the website at my own expense.  You can support this work by

If you would like to shower me with money and presents I will not object, but that is not why I do this.

Comments and problems

I hope that users will have not had problems. If you do, please let me know. Although I check external links regularly, it's sometimes difficult to spot problems, especially when webmasters redirect enquiries to a different place from the link I intended. Some useful links may be off-line for extended periods. Rather than delete the link immediately, it seems better to wait a little to see if the link can be recovered or replaced.

Any other comments would be appreciated. Please send complaints, suggestions or queries to