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Chapter 2: What is social policy?

Chapter 2: What is social policy?

Aim of the chapter
The aim of this chapter is to introduce you to social policy as a subject of study by considering the possible parameters of the subject and, importantly, whether or not social policy can be defined as a discipline within the social sciences.

Learning objectives
By the end of the chapter, and having completed the relevant readings and activities, you should be able to: appreciate that social policy draws on a wide range of social science knowledge understand how different areas of the social sciences contribute to social policy discuss what you consider to be the core elements of social policy and argue that they either do or do not (depending on your views) constitute a definable and meaningful disciplinary area understand the key parameters of social policy and their relevance to the academic study of the subject explain how social policy fits as a subject area within the social sciences explain how different disciplines within the social sciences contribute to the study of social policy demonstrate how social policy is (or is not!) a distinct academic discipline describe the core features of social policy and demonstrate an understanding of their relative significance in the study of the subject demonstrate an understanding of the key parameters of social policy and how they contribute to making an eclectic area of study.

Essential reading
Alcock, P Social policy in Britain. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003; 2008). . Alcock, P The subject of social policy in Alcock, P M. May and K. Rowlingson . ., (eds) The students companion to social policy. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). Baldock, J. Social policy, social welfare and the welfare state in Baldock, J., N. Manning and S. Vickerstaff (eds) Social policy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Kendall, J. Voluntary welfare in Alcock, P M. May and K. Rowlingson (eds) ., The students companion to social policy. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). Scott, D. The role of the voluntary and community sectors in Baldock, J., N. Manning and S. Vickerstaff (eds) Social policy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Sykes, R. Globalization and social policy in Alcock, P M. May and ., K. Rowlingson (eds) The students companion to social policy. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). Yeates, N. Globalization and social policy in Baldock, J., N. Manning and S. Vickerstaff (eds) Social policy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).


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Recommended reading
Dean, H. Social policy. (Cambridge: Polity, 2006) Chapter 1. Spicker, P Social policy: themes and approaches. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2008). .

Further reading
Anheier, H. Nonprofit organizations: theory, management, policy. (London: Routledge, 2005). Bochel, H. and S. Duncan Introduction in Bochel, H. and S. Duncan (eds) Making policy in theory and practice. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2007). Brown, K., S. Kenny, B. Turner and J. Prince Rhetorics of welfare: uncertainty, choice and voluntary associations. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000) [ISBN 9780333803592]. Cochrane, A. and K. Pain A globalizing society? in Held, D. (ed.) A globalizing world. (London: Routledge, 2004). Conradson, D. and C. Milligan Reflections on landscapes of voluntarism in Milligan, C. and D. Conradson (eds) Landscapes of voluntarism: new spaces of health, welfare and governance. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2006). Dunleavy, P and B. OLeary Theories of the state. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1987) . [ISBN 9780333386989]. Ellison, N. The transformation of welfare states? (London: Routledge, 2006) Chapter 2. Evans, M. and P Cerny Globalization and social policy in Ellison, N. and C. . Pierson (eds) Developments in British social policy 2. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003). Held, D. and A. McGrew The great globalization debate: an introduction in Held, D. and A. McGrew (eds) The global transformations reader. (Cambridge: Polity, 2006). Hill, M. and G. Bramley Analysing social policy. (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1986; 2003) Chapter 1. Hirst, P G. Thompson and S. Brownley Globalization in question. (Cambridge: ., Polity, 2009) third edition [ISBN 9780745641522]. Hudson, J. and S. Lowe Understanding the policy process: analysing welfare and policy practice. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2009). Milligan, C. and D. Conradson Contemporary landscapes of welfare: the voluntary turn? in Milligan, C. and D. Conradson (eds) Landscapes of voluntarism: new spaces of health, welfare and governance. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2006). Milligan, C. and N. Fyfe Renewal or relocation? Social welfare, voluntarism and the city in Milligan, C. and D. Conradson (eds) Landscapes of voluntarism: new spaces of health, welfare and governance. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2006). Mishra, R. Globalization and the welfare state. (London: Edward Elgar, 1999). Turner, B. The erosion of citizenship. Unpublished paper delivered at ESRC Research Seminar on Citizenship, University of Northampton, 1 December 2000.

Additional resources
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education website www.qaa.ac.uk

What is social policy? Although, in one sense, the whole of this guide could be regarded as an attempt to answer this deceptively simple question, it is important to explore some of the most frequently used meanings of the term. This introductory chapter invites you to consider the nature of social policy as an area of study in a fairly flexible and informal


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

manner. As you will note as you read on, social policy is a subject area that has theoretical, ideological and applied dimensions it is this mixture that makes the study of social policy so interesting. In the most recent edition of The students companion to social policy (2008, p.3), Pete Alcock argues that, although social policy belongs distinctly to the social science family along with political science, sociology and economics it nevertheless has a distinct empirical focus. By this, Alcock means that social policies are, in one way or another, concerned to support the well-being of citizens and the study of social policy is consequently about how different societies and their governments interpret the concept of well-being and how they set about developing policies to meet a variety of social needs. Social policy, then, is both an area of academic study and a range of policies and forms of social action that can change peoples lives. For Hartley Dean (2006, p.1), social policy is, above all, about the study of human well-being. For Dean, well-being is preferred to welfare because well-being is about how well people are, not how well they do (which strictly speaking is what welfare means). The notion of well-being is a good place to start because, as Dean suggests, social policies are indeed not only about material goods and services, be these forms of income support, health services or education. They are also about how these goods and services contribute to the quality of life experienced by individuals and families and how quality of life and other concepts such as need, want, equality and so on are understood both across time and in different economic, social, cultural and political contexts. In fact, conceptual or theoretical notions of well-being and the more empirically based notion of welfare are closely related. It is difficult to imagine studying the nature of human well-being without simultaneously needing to explore the material basis of that well-being (i.e. how human needs are met) in different societies. In this way, social policy is both about quality of life and human security (including feelings of happiness and well-being) and the ideological and philosophical issues that these concepts inevitably address, as well as being concerned with how the goods and services that contribute to that quality of life are organised and delivered by governments, private and voluntary agencies, and informal carers in different welfare systems. In simple terms, as Dean (2006, p.2) states, one dimension of social policy is the academic study of key theories, concepts and ideologies that underpin different approaches to well-being, while the other key dimension concerns the forms of welfare intervention employed by different societies in their various efforts to deal with human need. As mentioned in the Introduction to Part 1, in very broad terms, the chapters contained within it address a number of core issues associated with the academic study of social policy (Dean identifies this component of the subject by capitalising the S and P of social policy), while Part 2 deals more directly with welfare interventions social policy (i.e. without the capitals!) on Deans reading. However, while this distinction is clearly useful, it is difficult to maintain consistently. There is an inevitable overlap between how the various foundational concepts of social policy are defined, debated and understood, and how the key ideas and principles emerging from these theoretical discussions affect policy making and welfare interventions in different societies. In other words, welfare interventions cannot easily be separated from the concepts and principles on which they are based.


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Social policy and the social sciences

There can be little doubt that social policy is indeed has to be an eclectic area of study; the issue is whether this is all it is, or whether the subject has a sufficiently distinct knowledge base to be judged a discipline in its own right. The recently revised Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Social policy and administration benchmark statement (2007, p.2 see www.qaa.ac.uk) describes social policy in the following terms and it is worth quoting at some length:
Social policy and Administration is about the study of the distribution and organisation of welfare and well-being within societies. Its focus is on the ways in which different societies understand and meet the needs of their populations. The discipline is characterised by the following principles: the rigorous linking of theoretical analysis with empirical enquiry the identification and understanding of different value positions a willingness to engage with a range of intellectual traditions and social science disciplines the belief that students should acquire the skills and qualities which enable them to become active and informed citizens.

The statement goes on to note that:

Social policy is an interdisciplinary and applied discipline which is concerned to analyse the distribution and delivery of resources in response to social need. The subject draws on ideas and methods from sociology, political science and economics, while also using insights from a range of disciplines including social anthropology, human geography, social psychology and social work. As a discipline in its own right, social policy studies the ways in which societies provide for the social needs of their members through structures and systems of distribution, redistribution, regulation, provision and empowerment.

Thereafter, the statement itemises a wide range of subject areas, each of which can be said to contribute to the study of social policy although many of these areas are clearly relevant to other social science disciplines the study of citizenship, for example, or issues concerning globalisation or global governance. Perhaps the most significant feature, however, is the way in which the academic study of social policy combines theoretical discussion with applied issues. For example, how is the concept of human need best defined and what kind of policies may be required to ensure that human needs are adequately met?
ageing and social policy children and social policy citizenship in theory and practice crime and criminal justice policy community care comparative social policy devolution and social policy within the UK disability and social policy


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

economics, economic issues and social policy education and social policy environmental issues and social policy equal opportunity policies and their impacts family and social policy gender and social policy globalisation/transnationalisation/internationalisation and social policy health and health care services history and development of social policy in the UK housing and urban policies income maintenance and social security policy local governance, local welfare institutions and their policies leisure and social policy mixed economies of welfare (voluntary, private and informal sectors) organisation, administration, governance and management of welfare institutions philosophy of welfare policy-making process including the formulation and implementation of policies, and processes by which services are provided political and social theory, ideology and social policy poverty, social exclusion and social policy public sector management race, ethnicity and social policy science, technology and social policy service user perspectives and user involvement in the social policy process sexuality and social policy social care social policy and the mass media social policy and the virtual society social research methods supranational social policy transport and transport policy welfare rights and social policy work, employment and labour market policies youth, youth work and associated policies.

Box 2.1: QAA Social policy and administration benchmark statement: core subject areas.


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Activity 2.1 Review the core subject areas printed above and consider whether you think they are too numerous, or too few, to comprise a coherent academic discipline. What in your view are those who compiled the statement attempting to achieve? If you can, download the full revised Benchmark Statement from the QAA website (www.qaa.ac.uk); this will help you to think through the questions posed here by providing more information and background context. Because the study of social policy combines sophisticated theoretical enquiry with administrative and policy practice in this way, there is inevitably a sense in which the subject does indeed borrow from other social science disciplines as the above quotation from the QAA benchmark statement plainly indicates. Whether or not this feature makes social policy a coherent discipline will be considered briefly below; here it is important to consider the core disciplines on which social policy analysis draws before going on to consider what matters, if any, are specific to social policy as an academic discipline in its own right. Alcock (2003, p.2) points out that social policy frequently shares departmental status with other social science disciplines in British universities. There are a number of Sociology and Social Policy departments in the UK, for example, as well as a number of Social Policy and Social Work departments. Significantly, too, individual social policy academics work in a range of social science settings including political science, human geography, management studies and economics. The best way to conceptualise the relationship between these other disciplines and social policy is to regard them as providing core subject matter that is subsequently interpreted by social policy researchers and academics to suit their particular interests. So, for example, different socio-economic conditions including class structures, ethnic mixes and demographic structures; perceptions of the role of women; degrees of economic development, urbanisation and industrialisation can be studied and understood in a range of ways. The same can be said for political systems: for example, the role of organised labour or the nature of constitutional arrangements. If political science was the focus of analysis for all of these areas, they would be researched, discussed and written about from the viewpoint of types of government, the political representation (or lack of it) of marginal and minority groups, the position of trade unions and so on. In the case of social policy, the focus differs: social divisions are perceived in terms of ease of access to necessary goods and services (well-being), and the analysis of which social groups tend to face poverty, exclusion and inequality becomes significant. Again, the role of organised labour in the development of institutions that help to mitigate core risks could be a further dimension of analysis, as could the ways in which economic development and forms of industrialisation and urbanisation affect levels of poverty, wealth and income. To understand this subject in its fullest sense, then, it is necessary to appreciate how the following social science disciplines connect with social policy analysis. Social administration is very closely related to social policy. It examines the core areas of social policy formulation, such as health, housing, education, income support and the personal social services, taking account of policy processes particularly in the central and local state, but also in private and voluntary organisations and indeed in international and supranational organisations. Social administration


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

is also concerned with the analysis of the effects (intended and unintended) of policies on particular social groups. It is worth pointing out that social administration was the original label for the subject that has come to be known as social policy the (contested) change of name being sanctioned in the UK in 1987. The original title represents a clearly defined approach to the study of social welfare and continues to have a significant presence in research into, and the analysis of, contemporary welfare institutions. Sociology contributes to an awareness of the causes and effects of social divisions (e.g. class, gender, disability and race) and the ways in which social policies can either heal or exacerbate them. Sociological theories, perhaps particularly Marxist thinking but also postmodernist ideas associated with Foucault and others, provide critical insights into the nature of welfare in contemporary societies. They examine the nature of welfare state development under organised capitalism and the changing nature of welfare in an era of disorganised or late modern capitalism (see Giddens, 1994; Jessop, 1994; 2002). Again, sociologists are also interested in how notions of welfare and well-being are socially and culturally constructed through different discourses and practices. Political economy (the study of political ideologies and the assumptions underlying their approach to economic management) encourages an awareness of the political arguments that govern much economic and social policy making. So, for example, debates between Left and Right tend to centre on disagreements about levels of public and social spending, and the role of the state, arising no doubt from the very different conceptions of human well-being held among conservatives, neoliberals, social democrats and Marxists. An understanding of political economy is particularly important for the study of the impact of globalisation on welfare states much of the subject matter is concerned with the ways in which governments perceive the challenge of global economic competition and their attempts to alter (or preserve) existing welfare institutions in order to protect their economies. Economics provides insights into efficiency and equity issues along with a focus on the costs and benefits of welfare for the economies of particular states as wholes. Whatever the political beliefs of policy makers, they need to argue that social policies are efficient that is, they are not too costly for the economy to bear and benefit those for whom they are intended. Economists would also argue that social policies need to be equitable or fair in other words, they treat those in similar categories of need in similar ways (it is important to be aware, of course, that economists can hold very different views about equity, some arguing that virtually all social policies above a basic minimum can damage economic productivity, while others believe that high levels of welfare spending can be economically efficient). Political science provides an understanding of the constitutional arrangements existing in different countries and the impact of different governance structures on policy formulation. It also introduces the student of social policy to key political ideas such as equality, social justice, liberty and citizenship which make up the (contested) policy objectives that social policies are intended to bring about. Human geography is concerned with certain issues that have a direct bearing on social policy. Perhaps the best example is


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demography and particularly the contemporary challenge of population ageing, which threatens to undermine old-age pension systems in different parts of the world. Geographers also highlight the importance of space and the ways in which where people live can influence how they live, their life chances and quality of well-being.

Social policy as an academic discipline

In view of the close relationships between social policy and other social science disciplines, how reasonable is it to suggest that social policy is a discipline in its own right? Alcock (2003, p.3) attempts to carve out a distinct disciplinary character for social policy by suggesting how the subject differs from the other social sciences (while clearly borrowing from them). Social policy differs from sociology, according to Alcock, because it focuses on the development and implementation of policy measures in order to influence the social circumstances of individuals rather than the more general study of those circumstances themselves. In contrast to economics, while social policy is certainly concerned with matters of equity and efficiency, the interest stems from a focus on the well-being of individuals and social groups rather than the productive capacity of a nations economy. Much the same can be said about social policy in relation to the other disciplines mentioned above. In each case, the core focus of social policy is on the nature of well-being and welfare, and the mechanisms different societies have developed to deliver (or fail to deliver) particular social goods and services to their citizens. The theoretical and policy issues involved and debates about them draw from many other social science disciplines, but they are used by social policy academics in ways that illuminate these key concerns.

Different approaches
Some attempts have been made to define social policy more specifically and examples here tend to focus on the policy dimension of the subject. In their 1986 edition of Analysing social policy, Hill and Bramley argued that the subject is best conceived as a branch of public policy. This they define as the actions and positions taken by the state as the overriding authoritative collective entity in society. They go on to discuss how the state is comprised of a range of institutions and political actors engaged in the production of policy. Policy is defined as:
a set of interrelated decisions taken by a political actor or group of actors concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them within a specified situation where these decisions should, in principle, be within the power of these actors to achieve. (Hill and Bramley, 1986, p.3)

This rather opaque quotation is useful because, following Hill and Bramley, it makes it clear that: policy involves making decisions policy decisions are made by political actors. These may or may not be elected politicians. Civil servants, local government politicians and permanent staff and others appointed by government to quasigovernmental agencies can make and implement policy. In certain countries economic and social policy making is also the responsibility of specific peak organisations often the agencies of organised labour and capital


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

Sweden France Denmark Germany Belgium Austria Norway Italy Portugal Poland Hungary Finland Greece Czech Republic Netherlands Switzerland Spain UK Iceland New Zealand Australia Japan Slovak Republic Canada USA Ireland Turkey Mexico S. Korea

31.3 28.7 27.6 27.3 26.5 26.1 25.1 24.2 23.5 22.9 22.7 22.5 21.3 21.1 20.7 20.5 20.3 20.1 18.7 18.0 17.9 17.7 17.3 17.3 16.2 15.9 13.2 6.8 5.7

Table 2.1: Public social expenditures as percentage of GDP in selected OECD countries (2003). Source: Adapted from OECD (2007) p.20. (OECD Social expenditure database: an interpretive guide. (Paris: OECD, 2007) [www.oecd.org/els/social/expenditure])

policies are both means to particular goals that policy makers want to achieve and ends in their own right (i.e. the outcomes of policy debates by specific actors) policy is contingent in the sense that particular decisions depend on particular situations for their success and these are subject to constant change. Unsurprisingly, in view of the time when it was written, this perspective assumes that social policy is primarily an arm of state policy and, in so doing, takes little account of notions of welfare or well-being that


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Total Private Australia Austria Belgium Canada Czech Republic Denmark Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy Japan S. Korea Mexico Netherlands New Zealand Norway Poland Portugal Slovak Republic Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey United Kingdom USA Netherlands New Zealand Norway Poland Portugal Slovak Republic Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey United Kingdom USA 4.5 2.1 3.9 5.4 0.4 2.5 4.6 2.7 3.0 2.4 0.0 5.1 0.5 2.3 3.3 2.4 0.2 7.7 0.5 2.6 0.0 1.5 1.3 3.0 3.0 8.3 6.8 6.8 10.0 7.7 0.5 2.6 0.0 1.5 1.3 3.0 3.0 8.3 6.8 6.8 10.0

Share of private in total (public + private) social spending 20.0 7.4 12.9 23.9 1.7 8.3 17.2 8.5 9.8 10.0 0.2 21.6 2.8 8.5 15.6 29.6 2.7 27.7 2.5 9.4 0.2 6.0 6.9 1.5 8.7 28.8 25.1 25.1 38.3 27.7 2.5 9.4 0.2 6.0 6.9 1.5 8.7 28.8 25.1 25.1 38.3

Table 2.2: Total mandatory and voluntary private social spending as percentage of GDP, 2003. Source: Adapted from OECD (2007) p.23. (OECD Social expenditure database: an interpretive guide. (Paris: OECD, 2007) [www.oecd.org/els/social/expenditure])


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

reach beyond the state to private and voluntary agencies, and social movements as well as to families and individuals. Since the mid-1980s, of course, social policy has been dramatically transformed in the majority of countries belonging to the OECD, with state agencies tending to play less of a role in frontline service delivery (see below). However, it is instructive to mention this example if only to indicate how difficult it is to arrive at agreed definitions of social policy. The area is constantly evolving as social, political and economic changes constantly present individuals, societies and government with new challenges. Just to prove the point, you will find an updated discussion of the nature of the policy process in the following section of this chapter. More recently, Baldock (2007, pp.611) has examined the possibility of narrowing the definition of social policy to a more manageable concern with types of expenditure. This approach does not jettison the notions of well-being and welfare as organising principles of the discipline but it does produce a more easily understandable focus of study. Baldock writes that one way of measuring the amount of social policy in any society is to add up the amount of money spent on it. As Baldock acknowledges, this is a difficult process because different countries have different ways of financing social spending and it can be difficult to compare spending across countries owing to different accounting practices (Baldock, 2007, p.8). Nevertheless, agencies such as the OECD have developed ways of comparing expenditure the most common being the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to social spending. This latter category is often divided into public social spending and private social spending, referring to the amounts of public money devoted by the state to cash benefits and services to citizens, in the former case, and the amount of spending by NGOs on similar benefits and services, in the latter case. There is obviously a third category of spending which refers to the money that individuals themselves spend on their own welfare but this is not counted as social spending by the OECD because it is not regarded as a consequence of social policy. In other words, so far as the OECD is concerned, exclusively private spending has nothing to do with political decisions about how to spend public monies to meet identified welfare needs. Looking at social policy in this way appears to offer a means of defining the subject more closely. The approach is useful because it helps us to understand the social, political and economic complexities associated with social spending, including how social spending is defined and why certain types of expenditure are classified as public and private, and so on. Just as importantly, this perspective opens on to debates about the different ways in which different governments choose to fund social spending (see Chapter 7). From here the discipline can be opened further to explore the different ideological perspectives associated with particular forms and levels of social spending (see Chapter 4). There is, of course, a comparative dimension to the examination of spending patterns (see Castles, 2004 for example), which is useful because it provides insights into how different countries and political regimes prioritise different aspects of social spending and, consequently, insights into how welfare and well-being are understood in different societies and cultures.

Social policy as an eclectic discipline

Despite the fact that it is perfectly possible to examine a wide range of issues using policy making or social spending as a starting point, these ways into the study of social policy are perhaps too narrow to be entirely useful. Baldock (2007, p.11) himself appreciates this difficulty when he states that


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there is no universal agreement as to the definition of social policy, and it is probably best that this is so (my emphasis). Instead of trying to pin social policy down too specifically, it may be better to make a virtue of necessity and treat as a strength the fact that social policy encompasses a broad range of issues and concerns related to the overriding preoccupation with human welfare and well-being. As Baldock (2007, p.11) comments: students of social policy are no more likely to wish for tight boundaries defining their subject than historians would set strict limits on what counts as history. Hartley Dean (2006, p.5) agrees. For Dean, social policy is a wonderful subject for people who dont want to tie themselves down to just one discipline indeed, social policy students are magpies, pragmatically picking whatever they need from across the social sciences in order to fashion answers to real life issues. The caveat is that social policy remains a highly rigorous subject because it retains a highly specific commitment to the cause of human well-being (Dean, 2006, p.5). Activity 2.2 Read the recommended chapter by Baldock and also the chapter by Dean. What are the similarities and differences between the two? Consider which approach you find most convincing and list your reasons. Both Baldock and Dean are broadly right about social policy. To attempt to restrict the area of study too much immediately risks losing sight of significant and interesting issues and ideas that have a bearing on human welfare and well-being. Even so, in the final part of this section it is worth considering a few of the major areas that need to be included as essential ingredients of the study of social policy, without which understandings of the role and nature of welfare in contemporary societies could not be advanced. These ingredients should be thought of as necessary, though not sufficient, elements of the subject which, above all, sets out to enhance understandings of welfare and well-being.

Three core ingredients of social policy

Theories, principles and ideologies
For many social policy academics, the subject has a significant normative or value-driven dimension. Dealing with concepts of equality, poverty and human need as key determinants of well-being inevitably leads to the development of particular moral and ideological positions which can be deployed to support particular policy alternatives. A further set of concepts concerning the nature of citizenship and belonging, and understandings of social inclusion and exclusion, are also significant, partly at least because they are often held to entail more than just material forms of inequality. Exclusion can be based on ethnic or gender lines or on disability as much as it can on income and wealth. Social policy analysis which lacks an appreciation of the centrality of concepts and principles of this kind would struggle to comprehend major themes like redistribution and risk that permeate the subject. These matters, together with an assessment of ideological approaches to key principles and ideas, will be discussed in detail in Chapters 25.

The policy and administrative process in different societies

While it would be dangerous to attempt to reduce social policy to the study of policy making and administration per se, it is equally hard to


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

imagine studying the subject without exploring these areas. How policy is made and financed, what policies are implemented, by whom and with what effects on which social groups questions of this kind force us to think, for example, about power relations in different societies. After all, it is likely that different structures of power will influence perceptions of poverty, inequality, need and so on, which in turn will contribute to decisions about levels of social spending, the kind of policies required and the means of delivering them.

Key challenges to contemporary welfare systems

The study of social policy needs to take account of the different challenges that welfare systems are currently facing. Perhaps this dimension is more necessary than it would have been 30 or 40 years ago when the post-war Keynesian welfare state was in its heyday. Partly because of the contested nature of globalisation and its impact, but partly, too, because other contingencies like population ageing are posing problems for many welfare systems in the developed economies, issues of welfare state change and recalibration are immensely significant. Clearly, these three ingredients of the subject do not exhaust what can be understood as social policy not least because they all open up the discipline in various ways rather than narrow it down. The following section will explore some of the ways in which social policy can indeed be opened up by assessing the nature of particular dimensions, or parameters, of social policy.

Social policy: key parameters

Social policy, policy making and the policy process
The discussion above suggested that simply to view social policy as policy per se is a narrow approach to take. This verdict would be true if the focus of analysis was purely on state-produced policies, without reference to other sources of policy and an appreciation of the impact of different social policies on different populations and communities. Contemporary policy analysis builds on earlier work by providing a more sophisticated understanding of the policy process. At root, the process of policy making is conceived as a multifarious set of activities governmental and nongovernmental, formal and informal that, taken together, contribute to a complex picture of (social) policy not as a thing that is made but as a never-ending series of attempts to produce potential solutions to (often) seemingly intractable problems. The decisions that inform these efforts are, of course, frequently framed in ways that favour particular groups and communities, and so are politically contested. Indeed, in the advanced welfare states of the OECD, organised party politics contribute a good deal to the shaping of different policy debates and the kinds of solutions to challenges such as unemployment and poverty that find their way on to policy agendas. Policy decisions, furthermore, are also embedded in economic and social contexts that pose difficult challenges for those making and implementing policies. For example, changing forms of production or changes in the demographic mix of particular populations are likely to have consequences for social provision because policy makers may have to take greater account of the structure of, say, pensions and health policies if they are confronted with rising numbers of older people. In this way, the policy-making process should be conceived less as a single entity and more as a dynamic, complex environment in which decision making cannot always be rational and information about what kinds of


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policies stand the best chance of success is far from perfect. Hudson and Lowe (2009) make it clear that the policy process can be understood in different ways and at different levels. They divide policy analysis into three different dimensions macro, meso and micro in order to make it clear how complex and messy policy processes can be. In taking this approach, Hudson and Lowe (2009) essentially deny the usefulness of more traditional perspectives (see Lasswell, 1936) that understood policy making as largely rational and logical activities. Although, as Hudson and Lowe argue, Lasswell did not consider the stages of policy promotion, innovation and application to be real, he thought that they acted as a model for developing knowledge about the policy process. The problem, of course, was that the model took little or no account of contributions to policy making that came from outside the narrow world of politicians and state civil servants. In fact, as Lindblom (1959, 1979) has pointed out, policy making is a chaotic and messy business mainly because those involved in it, at whatever level, are dealing with imperfect information, unacknowledged conditions and the unintended consequences of past policy initiatives. In contrast to Lasswell and also to Hill and others (see above) Hudson and Lowe argue that the policy process can best be understood by analysing policy on three dimensions: macro, meso and micro. These categories are summarised in Box 2.3.
The macro level This category examines a wide range of overarching factors that are considered likely to pose challenges for those seeking to develop, or have an impact on, policy making at regional, national or sub-national levels. Economic globalisation, for example, might have an impact on social policy making because global economic pressures make it difficult for governments to maintain high levels of social spending. If governments need to attract multinational capital in the relative absence of capital controls, they may have to increase the flexibility of labour and reduce wage levels to sustain a competitive edge. Globalisation may or may not be as influential as this example suggests (see below) the point here is that policy makers and academic analysts have to take account of a range of phenomena outside their immediate control when developing social policies. Further examples include a range of changes in the world of work, partly induced by the rise of new technologies, which have had profound effects on both how people are employed and who is employed (see Ellison, 2009). The dramatic shift away from manufacturing industry, largely populated by full-time male workers, to the service industries, in which many women work on a casual or part-time basis, is one example of this change. The meso level Meso-level analyses examine power structures, the role of institutions and policy networks. Briefly, any analysis of the policy process needs to understand it as a political process. Different interests compete to set policy-making agendas and there has been a good deal of academic debate about how best to conceptualise different understandings of power (see Hudson and Lowe, 2009, Chapter 7; Dunleavy and OLeary, 1987). Other elements of meso-level analysis are concerned with the nature of institutions and how existing institutional arrangements can inhibit policy change but also foster stability and gradual or incrementalist


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

change. Again, the impact of policy networks on policy formulation and particularly on how they can affect policy outcomes is important. Hudson and Lowe (2009) point out that policy networks can be resistant to change and, by contributing to processes that routinise and consolidate policy outcomes, can help to limit the impact of macro-level factors such as global economic pressures by stressing the importance of incrementalism. Because policy networks can be highly differentiated as well as extensive (often crossing national boundaries), they encourage policy makers to perceive the policy-making process in pluralist terms that is, they encourage a degree of political openness, consultation and other forms of democratic accountability. The micro level This level concentrates on the immediate decisions about policy options and who takes them, the implementation of policies and evaluation of their effectiveness. One element of the decision-making process involves consideration of how rational it can be. Here notions of bounded rationality (see Simon, 1982), which argue that policy outcomes are the product of attempts to be systematic, even in circumstances of imperfect information, clash with Lindbloms (1959, 1979) argument that policy makers at best have to muddle through, keeping their aims and options limited in order to ensure a degree of success. The exploration of policy implementation yields similar debates and issues. How easy is it to implement policies as intended by policy makers? Political interests and grass-roots resistance can upset outcomes and implementation can produce unintended consequences that create new difficulties that have to be addressed by a new series of policy proposals.
Box 2.3: Three dimensions of policy analysis. Source: Hudson and Lowe (2009).

The very broad description of policy analysis and policy process in Box 2.3 is intended to show how complex an area policy making is. Social policy is, of course, crucially concerned with the policy process and for this reason it is important to read Hudson and Lowe (2009) if possible. Alternative or additional readings are Bochel and Duncan (2007, Chapter 1) and Spicker (2008, Chapter 5). Activity 2.3 Having read the section above, consider what is meant by policy-making process and write down what you think the main ingredients of this process are. Then go on to consider why an understanding of the policy-making process is so important for the study of social policy.

Social policy, the voluntary sector and the welfare mix

That the subject of social policy has a good deal to do with understanding the nature of the welfare state could be considered a truism. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the welfare state is a sub-set not only of the broader disciplinary area of social policy but of that aspect of it that concentrates on the delivery of social goods and services. It is possible to view this division between social policy and the welfare state in this way because the study of social policy involves more than the study of formal welfare state organisation. We have already seen that studying social policy is likely to involve an appreciation of the economic, social and political contexts in which policy makers have to operate, but it also involves an appreciation of how different services are distributed to


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different sections of national populations in different ways. It is clear, for example, that plenty of welfare is delivered to various social groups that may not immediately be recognised as having anything to do with formal welfare arrangements. The best-known analysis of this wider world of welfare comes from Richard Titmuss (1963). In his essay on the Social division of welfare, Titmuss divided welfare provision into three types: occupational, fiscal and social. While the social category represented the traditional publicly funded social services, the first two categories referred to various forms of welfare provided, or indirectly subsidised, by the state to groups that could not necessarily be considered to be in need. For example, fiscal welfare refers to financial relief distributed through the tax system tax relief on personal pensions is a case in point. Occupational welfare includes benefits paid by employers to particular, often well paid, employees: private health arrangements, employer-provided childcare or occupational pensions arrangements, for example. Titmusss work provided a baseline for a particular approach to social policy that stressed the significance of the welfare mix. Different countries provide different types of goods and services in different ways. As Alcock (2003, p.14) states, these differences reveal a varying balance within different regimes between the role of the state in the provision of welfare, for example with public welfare playing a major role in social democratic regimes such as Sweden and the private market playing a major role in liberal regimes such as the USA. The nature of welfare regimes will be explored in detail in Chapter 7 the point here is to understand that the delivery of goods and services differs according to the country under examination, although the mix will always tend to include one form or other of the following sectors. The public sector that part of the social services that is financed and managed by the state. These services are frequently referred to collectively as the welfare state (see below). The private sector depending on the country in question, some or many services are provided by the private sector. The USA has a large private healthcare sector, for example, and other goods and services are also provided by the market. In the UK, the health service remains under public control, financed by the taxpayer, but the private sector provides a range of goods and services including residential homes for older people, elements of the employment service, and some private schools and hospitals. The voluntary sector as Spicker (2008, p.139) writes, the voluntary sector is extremely diverse, ranging from small local societies to large, very professional agencies. This sector covers a wide range of activities but is typically focused on health, social services, housing and community development, environmental, cultural and international aid agencies. Again, the role of the voluntary sector will vary depending on the country under review. The mutual aid sector Spicker points out that mutual aid involving small groups or distinct communities clubbing together to provide collective support for their members has a long history in the UK in the form of friendly societies (many of which became building societies in a later incarnation), and this is true elsewhere: mutualist arrangements for health care in Israel covered 90 per cent of the population before the government decided to break it up (see Spicker, 2008, p.140).


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

The informal sector vast amounts of welfare are delivered informally by family, friends and neighbours (Glendinning and Arksey, 2008). This sector tends to be under-resourced, with care arrangements for children, sick and disabled people and older people largely being left to women as informal carers. Countries vary in their approaches to informal care, with Scandinavian nations tending to be more generous. Levels of service provision for families in Sweden, for example, are sufficiently high to make it feasible for carers to find employment. Other societies, such as Germany and the UK, continue to rely on high levels of either unresourced or under-resourced informal support, while East Asian countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore rely on the family as a primary source of care for the young, the sick and older people. Before moving on to consider the nature of the organised welfare state, it is worth exploring the nature of the voluntary sector in more detail (see in particular Scott, 2007). In many of the better-off countries of the global North and West, there has been a marked tendency on the part of governments to roll back state welfare provision, partly in an effort to contain the tax burden but partly, too, to encourage more mixed and pluralised forms of welfare support and intervention. Ideologically, this shift away from the state as the core provider of goods and services is heavily contested and Chapter 3 will outline the different ideological positions taken in relation to the role of state-based collective provision. The point here, however, is to note how extensive the voluntary sector has become and what an important, though by no means unproblematic, position it occupies in the delivery of welfare. The voluntary sector can be broadly defined as comprising organisations that are formal, non-profit-distributing, constitutionally independent of the state and self-governing (Milligan and Conradson, 2006, p.3). These organisations vary markedly in size. Some have large numbers of paid employees while others depend entirely on volunteers; again, some organisations have immense influence in governing circles in contrast to others which are local and whose work goes largely unnoticed. Certain voluntary organisations the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is an example in the UK can influence national policy agendas, and indeed agencies such as the Red Cross and Oxfam have an international profile (Kendall, 2008). Various religious organisations, such as the Catholic Church, also have global profiles and have the capacity to influence policy outcomes at both a national and a global level. Religious and political activism, together with many other forms of voluntary association, make up a vast and varied area of activity associated with welfare in the broadest sense. For example, a study by Brown, Kenny and Turner (2000) found that there were 93,448 non-government welfare organisations in Australia, three-quarters of which were dedicated to health. The study also found that a high percentage of the agencies relied on government funding, and indeed this characteristic is a common feature of the voluntary sector. As Turner (2000, p.14) has commented elsewhere, government support [in Australia] was least common among mutual support and aid organisations, self-help groups and rights advocacy groups, which suggests that certain voluntary agencies are more integrated into government strategies than others. As Conradson and Milligan (2006, p.288) point out, acceptance of funding continues to bring significant compliance costs in the form of institutional monitoring and accountability. The difficulty here is that some organisations risk losing their independence and also their capacity to engage in campaigning and


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advocacy work, which is arguably the most important contribution that the voluntary sector can make to social policy. On a more positive note, voluntary organisations provide opportunities for individuals to engage in meaningful work in relation to welfare provision that encourages them to take themselves seriously as active democrats. Observers refer to this dimension of voluntarism in terms of its capacity to develop social capital that is, not just the delivery of welfare services but the general ties, habits, relationships and interactions in communities that function better when trust, reciprocity, stability and respect can be established (Kendall, 2008, p.216). As Turner (2000, p.15) argues, non-profit organisations are a crucial condition of political participation; they are more efficient than government provision and can be more sensitive and responsive to the needs of client groups they [also] provide for a strong civil society that counterweighs the tendencies towards domination of the state and market forces. The difficulty with this vision of the voluntary sector is that it underplays its uneven nature (Scott, 2007, p.329). Not all citizens play an equal role in volunteering, nor do voluntary organisations neatly cover areas of need in an equal way. Patterns of volunteering vary among different socio-economic groups and different areas (even within one city see Milligan and Fyfe, 2006). Again, patterns of voluntary provision vary among different areas, some of which are better covered than others and this problem leads to further issues concerning how voluntary organisations should be regulated: is it better to tie organisations closely to state welfare goals (in which case they risk becoming an arm of the state welfare bureaucracy) or allow them to develop their own policies and practices (in which case the spread of service provision will be uneven and the organisations themselves prone to managerial instability)? Activity 2.4 Write a list of what you believe to be the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary sector organisations in welfare delivery. Once you have done this, list what you believe to be the major voluntary welfare organisations in your country and consider what services they provide and how widely these services are spread. You will be helped in this activity if you read Kendall (2008) as a basic introduction and then read Scott (2007). Further reading of Conradson and Milligan (2006, Chapters 1 and 16) will also be helpful. If you wish to take your reading further, Anheier (2005) covers the issues discussed above in greater detail. The welfare state Turning to the formal welfare state, it is certainly the case that much social policy debate and analysis over the past 50 years has concentrated on a number of state-organised and state-financed service areas. To gain a clear understanding of the core features of the organised welfare state you should look at Part 6 in Alcock et al. (2008), Part 2 in Ellison and Pierson (2003) or Part 4 in Baldock et al. (2007). These texts concentrate on the UK; for a more comparative approach read Part 2 of Hill (2006). In each case, the contributors deal with the limited range of policy areas that traditionally have been taken to comprise state welfare provision in those countries with mature welfare systems. These areas are typically: social security and income support (including pensions) employment/labour market policy housing


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

education personal social services health and social care. Obviously, developing in-depth knowledge about each of these areas of state social policy across a range of countries would be an enormous task and sufficient to fill about three study guides! Chapter 7 provides a general overview of some of these areas in comparative perspective and suggests extra reading for those who choose to explore particular services in more detail. Here it is important to consider briefly the key ways in which state welfare has changed over the past 50 years or so. It would be fair to suggest that the majority of advanced welfare states have witnessed quite dramatic changes both in the purposes of welfare and in their organisational structures over this time. For a variety of reasons arguably to do with increasing global economic pressures, the emergence of new technologies, changes in the world of work and the subsequent loss of influence on the part of organised labour (see Ellison, 2006, Chapter 3; Ellison, 2009), what has come to be called the Keynesian welfare state, has declined in favour of a retrenched (Pierson, 1996) Schumpeterian workfare state (Jessop 1994, 2002) or competition state (Evans and Cerny, 2003). Elements of this shift are discussed in Chapter 4 in relation to the emergence of Third Way approaches to social policy and also at the end of Chapter 7. The significant point, however, is to understand that, virtually irrespective of the country under consideration, the provision of public welfare has moved from an emphasis on social protection and universal social rights (realised through equal access to key services such as health care, income support and education) to one that seeks to limit the extent of protection and stresses instead the importance of individual responsibility and the conditionality of welfare (see Pierson, 1994; Dwyer, 2000). This emphasis on responsibility and conditionality is linked directly to policies that encourage or coerce people to take paid work wherever possible. The Schumpeterian workfare state is conceived as a system that offers opportunities for work and training in the context of a low-wage, flexible labour market and welfare goods and services that are designed to minimise the risk of welfare dependency. One way of characterising this change is to regard it as part of a much wider set of processes that have seen the shape of the post-war state alter dramatically. For Gilbert (2002, p.15), the welfare state of the post-war world has become the enabling state of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. On this reading, welfare is less about catering for the needs of vulnerable social groups and more about developing policy solutions that encourage or enable individuals to make the most of the opportunities (for education and employment) that the state and other agencies provide. Both Jessop (2002) and Cerny (2000) have argued that governments in the global west and north have, over the past 30 years or so, increasingly adopted liberal labour market policies that stress the flexibility of labour and wages, the importance of keeping wages globally competitive and the need to control organised labour all in the interests of constraining social spending and remaining attractive to inward investment from transnational capital. To be sure, different countries go at different speeds and continue to do so and there is no evidence to support fears of a race to the bottom with the developed economies leapfrogging one another in a race to cut social spending to the bone. What does appear to be happening though, is a general drift towards liberal policy solutions which entail less reliance on


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state welfare, a re-mixing of the post-war version of the mixed economy of welfare in favour of increased private, voluntary and informal sector provision, and rising demands on individuals to be more responsible for their own welfare and less dependent on state services. These issues will be considered from a conceptual and ideological viewpoint in the following chapters. It is important here, however, to understand that definitions of welfare and the welfare state are not fixed for all time. In common with many other terms in the social sciences, they are likely to vary in meaning as economic, social and political changes create new challenges which competing groups politicians, pressure groups, interest coalitions attempt to solve. In this sense, social policy as a subject of study never stands still. Because social, economic and political conditions constantly change, policy makers, policy analysts and students of social policy continually have to update their ideas as well as potential solutions to changing social problems. It is this process of continually having to rethink the nature and conditions of social policy that makes this area such an exciting object of study. Activity 2.5 Write down what you understand by the term the mixed economy of welfare. Compare the welfare mix in two areas of policy taken from the list above. Having done that, ask yourself why the post-war state-organised variant of the welfare mix is being eroded in favour of greater private, voluntary and informal sector contributions to social policy. The following section will help you answer this question.

Social policy and globalisation

A huge amount has been written about globalisation over the past 15 years or so. Indeed, the term itself could easily be a subject of study in its own right or even a complete degree programme. The chief reason why globalisation is apparently such an extensive topic is because the term covers a series of important changes in social, cultural, political and economic spheres of activity, which, taken together, are held by some observers to be contributing to a general convergence of social, economic and cultural policies across the globe. Where culture is concerned, for example, research has concentrated on the role that influential cultural industries such as Hollywood (and increasingly Bollywood) play in the dissemination of particular cultural norms and assumptions. The extent to which different societies and cultures are being progressively subjected to American (or Western) popular culture is an important issue. A different understanding of globalisation would examine the ways in which political movements and forms of popular protest have become increasingly globalised. The spread of the internet and mobile technologies have facilitated communication, making it easier to organise protests about globally significant issues on a global scale; the Seattle, Prague and Edinburgh anti-globalisation protests are cases in point. One argument here is that the formal politics of national elections, fought by traditional, organised political parties, is failing to attract popular attention in the way that global issues such as the extent of poverty in developing nations, or the problems of climate change, are now doing. These issues go some way beyond the scope of this guide, although Chapter 9 will take up the political/governmental theme through an exploration of how certain aspects of social policy, which are of global concern, are increasingly open to regulation by a number of agencies engaged in global governance. Here, however, the discussion will be restricted to an assessment of contemporary debates about the


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

possible impact of economic globalisation on national welfare systems in the developed economies. Consideration also needs to be given to how developing economies are coping with rising global economic competition, and particularly how globalisation may be affecting their efforts to increase or sustain social provision. A good place to begin reading about globalisation is Sykes (2008). This short introduction makes it clear that, so far as social policy is concerned, economic processes are essential to an understanding of the term. Of particular importance are changes in the nature of trade (in the form of increasing trade openness) and in the autonomy of finance capital. Taking this approach defines globalisation rather narrowly and, as Yeates (2007, p.629) points out, the term also refers to the dramatic increases in the speed of communication flows and the time that it takes to convey information across the globe. Technological innovation and specifically internet technologies is largely responsible for these changes, but the significant issue here is how the contraction of the timespace continuum (Giddens, 1990) has facilitated economic change and, in turn, how changes at the economic level may be creating particular political challenges for the welfare strategies of nation states and national governments. An excellent overview of these processes can be found in Yeates (2007), with Ellison (2006, Chapter 2) covering similar ground. Key aspects of debates about the nature and impact of globalisation will be found in Part 2 of this guide especially in Chapters 6 and 7. Why is globalisation considered to be so important to an understanding of contemporary social policy? The short answer is that global economic pressures are considered by some commentators to pose particular difficulties for developed welfare states (see above) because of the apparent tension between the demand for high social spending on the one hand, and the global demand to be competitive, and so to keep costs down, on the other. In reality, however, the question is a difficult one to answer because opinion is divided as to whether or not globalisation really is an important phenomenon. The Introduction written by Held, McGrew et al. in their seminal work, Global transformations (1999), suggests that there are three broad perspectives on globalisation: the sceptical view (see Hirst et al., 2009; Hay, 2001; Pierson, 2001a) the hyperglobalist view (see Mishra, 1999; Giddens, 2000) the transformationalist view (see Held et al., 1999, Held and McGrew 2006; Evans and Cerny, 2003). In each case, the argument turns to a large extent on perceptions of the global economy and particularly the relative influence of key features such as the degree of trade openness and the extensity of global capital flows. Depending on the position adopted, the state (and therefore the welfare state) is regarded as either more or less constrained by these global economic forces. Take trade openness for example: hyperglobalisers argue that the collapse of trade barriers is leading to the world economy becoming increasingly integrated, with trade flows increasing both among developing countries and between these countries and the developed economies. For some (Giddens, 2000), trade openness on this scale suggests that we are living in a borderless world with relatively free trade flows and open markets. In such a globalised economy, the concern is that elected governments find it difficult to influence market activities in ways that can support the interests of more vulnerable groups. In a world economy that is liberalising rapidly, some pessimistic hyperglobalisers believe that there will inevitably be negative impacts for social spending


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in the richer nations and serious difficulties facing those who want to develop sustainable welfare systems in developing countries (see Cochrane and Pain, 2004). Other optimistic globalisation enthusiasts, of course (see Ohmae, 1996), believe that open markets and increasing trade openness will produce a global market economy that will favour poorer countries as they become increasingly integrated into it but this view is not widely shared by social policy academics. Sceptics counter that the apparent collapse of trade barriers has given rise to other forms of tariff (e.g. exchange rate uncertainties across national borders, and cultural and linguistic differences) that act to inhibit the development of free markets. Again, others (Schaeffer, 2003, pp.243 44) argue that large export-oriented and service industries in the northern hemisphere have benefited from the fact that key global agencies such as the WTO, originally conceived to increase the reduction of trade barriers in the interests of fair trade, have allowed richer countries to capture markets from businesses that used to be protected by governments in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Indeed, sceptics point out that trade openness really only extends to the rich northern and western economies that form a triad: the USA and Canada, the European Union and Asia Pacific (including the burgeoning Chinese economy). These regional economic blocs suck in more and more of the worlds production, trade and direct investment to the detriment of developing nations. On this reading, trade is not considered to be particularly open, and national economic priorities specficially those of the richer nations take precedence. Transformationalists (Held et al., 1999) take the middle ground. They argue that trade openness, measured by the rising total of exports and imports in different countries (usually expressed as a percentage of GDP) is increasing and that developing countries are in many cases beginning to benefit from this trend, although they remain vulnerable to market interventions by richer northern nations. Their point, however, is that the increasing extensity of trade does not amount to a globalised economy or at least not yet. Debates about the impact of increasing capital flows among social policy academics and political economists are quite polarised. Hyperglobalisers argue that the collapse of capital controls in the developed economies during the 1980s has led to a situation where banks and transnational companies can export capital at the touch of a button (Giddens, 1998, p.27), which challenges the ability of governments to control their domestic economies. Why? Because, according to hyperglobalisers like Mishra (1999), Giddens (2000) and Gray (1998), governments have to create policies designed to attract free-flowing capital in order to ensure high employment and a fully functioning economy. Although some globalisation enthusiasts (Ohmae, 1996) applaud this state of affairs, those involved in social policy research argue that the need to attract inward investment can risk undermining key features of the domestic economy and society such as social spending and the welfare state because of the importance of maintaining competitive wage structures and the flexibility of labour. For hyperglobalisers, there is a risk of a race to the bottom as developed welfare states compete to cut social spending in favour of market-oriented measures designed to reduce wages and discipline the labour force in an effort to attract transnational capital. Sceptics are by no means convinced by the above argument! They point out that, although transnational companies might invest overseas, the profits and core business activities stay with their home countries, which benefit accordingly (Hirst et al., 2009). Moreover, as Hay (2001)


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

argues, capital is not always as mobile as hyperglobalisers believe to change decisions about capital investment and relocate production across territorial borders can be an expensive operation and choices of this kind are not made lightly. It is true, too, that governments are not without power where footloose capital is concerned. They can offer particular inducements including tax advantages and relocation expenses to stimulate inward investment that can bring rewards in the form of high employment rates, for example. In this way, governments are important actors in the global political economy and can influence the decision making of transnational companies, targeting certain types of producer or service provider in order to shape their economic strategies in particular ways. As sceptics suggest, it is notable that different countries pursue very different economic strategies whatever the pressures of globalisation. Scandinavian nations, for example, continue to pursue high-tax, high public spending strategies and transnational investment has remained robust owing to the particularly high levels of workforce training and skills that are offered. The UK, on the other hand, has followed the path of flexible labour markets and a low-tax, low-wage economy in an attempt to make conditions conducive for a range of transnational companies. Those who take the transformationalist or weak globalisation position would argue that there is evidence to suggest that governments have to respond to transnational pressures and that conditions have changed since capital controls were abolished in the 1980s. Although certain types of foreign direct investment are indeed cumbersome and companies are by no means always inclined to disinvest in factories and other plant easily, other types of capital futures, stocks, bonds and other forms of liquid capital are highly mobile and, where national economies appear to be weakening, can be exported quickly (see Ellison, 2006, Chapter 2). Developing nations, although they can benefit from globalising tendencies if they have desirable commodities (including cheap labour) that they can market, are nevertheless vulnerable to decisions by richer countries, or transnational companies, to take over the production of particular goods themselves or withdraw capital for use elsewhere. Even so, transformationalists would argue that not all the pressures facing national governments come from the global economy. Domestic deindustrialisation in the richer nations, which is caused as much by technological change as by globalisation (see Pierson, 2001b), and which has much to do with the shift away from male-based manufacturing production towards the service sector, has certainly contributed to welfare state retrenchment (see Ellison, 2009). To sum up this complex area of study, it is clear that something is going on in the global economy those who argue that trade openness and capital flows are increasing are certainly not wrong. And indeed, in the light of the dramatic downturn the credit crunch in global financial markets from 2007 onwards, it may be thought that globalisation is becoming increasingly real. The capacity of poor investment decisions and lending practices to infect financial markets (and subsequently product markets) at least in the richer regions around the globe is plain to see and surely it is likely that the cost to taxpayers and governments, who have had to inject huge amounts of liquidity into national banking systems, will be expressed in reduced social spending? There are certainly lessons to be learned here in terms of how rich nations manage their welfare systems and tax regimes, and also how developing economies position themselves in a world where key decisions are not taken by themselves but by international organisations (the UN, the IMF, the WB)


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that can be influenced by powerful governments (see Chapter 8). Even with the financial crisis likely to persist well into 2010 and beyond, it is clear that governments and nation states are by no means powerless players in the emerging global economic system far from it. Thinking of the richer welfare states in particular, while signs of welfare retrenchment and change have been evident for the past two decades in most nations, it is equally clear that the emergent competition state perceived by Cerny is organised differently in different countries. In other words, change may be affecting the great majority of welfare systems but it is affecting them all differently. If global economic pressures are meant to be forcing a convergence of social and economic policies across different nation states, there is relatively little evidence of this phenomenon. Welfare states may be liberalising (some faster than others) but they continue to retain distinct regime characteristics (see Chapter 7) of their own and are likely to do so in the future (Ellison, 2006). Activity 2.6 Consider the respective positions of hyperglobalisers, sceptics and transformationalists. Write down your understanding of these different positions and then consider how each position can be related to social policy issues. You will be helped in this exercise if you read Held et al., 1999; Hirst et al., 2009, Chapter 1; Cochrane and Pain, 2004; Ellison 2006, Chapters 2 and 3; Yeates, 2007; and Sykes, 2008.

A reminder of your learning outcomes

Having completed this chapter, and the relevant readings and activities, you should be able to: appreciate that social policy draws on a wide range of social science knowledge understand how different areas of the social sciences contribute to social policy discuss what you consider to be the core elements of social policy and argue that they either do or do not (depending on your views) constitute a definable and meaningful disciplinary area understand the key parameters of social policy and their relevance to the academic study of the subject explain how social policy fits as a subject area within the social sciences explain how different disciplines within the social sciences contribute to the study of social policy demonstrate how social policy is (or is not!) a distinct academic discipline describe the core features of social policy and demonstrate an understanding of their relative significance in the study of the subject demonstrate an understanding of the key parameters of social policy and how they contribute to making an eclectic area of study.


Chapter 2: What is social policy?

Sample examination questions

1. What evidence would you produce to defend the claim that social policy is as much an academic discipline as any of the other subject areas in the social sciences? 2. How necessary is an appreciation of policy making to a developed understanding of social policy? 3. What advantages and disadvantages for the delivery of welfare goods and services do you see in a strong voluntary sector? 4. What are the major reasons for the shift away from the post-war statebased forms of welfare delivery over the past 25 years?