The term "social policy" seems simplistic at first. Could it be defined as the parameters within which society works for the benefit of its people? That definition is absolutely correct, but it opens a complete subset of other queries. For one thing, what benefits people? For another, do the parameters change from one society to another? When the idea is examined at close range, it becomes a complex and multi-faceted issue.
Defining the Term
Wikipedia offers this definition: it is "various areas of policy, usually within a government or political setting. It can refer to guidelines, principles, legislation or activities that affect the living conditions, conducive to human welfare, such as a person's quality of life." Human welfare is a complicated idea as well. It depends upon the things people choose to have. That is, equal pay for women may be a welfare issue in some societies, but not a part of welfare in others where most women are not a part of the workforce. There are some factors that all cultures have in common; these include things like good health and individual freedoms.
What is Welfare?
In its broadest sense, according to an article by Paul Spicker on the website Introduction to Social Policy, it is a study, not a discipline. It involves policies, administration of social service programs, public health, housing, income maintenance, education and social work. It also deals with the issues of people who receive these services like old age, poverty, disability and others. Again, the idea of welfare depends upon the things people choose to have. In wealthy countries this could include the ability to possess means of transportation and even access to medicinal herbs like marijuana. Articles on a website dealing with policies in society recently touched upon the legalization of recreational marijuana, cyber bullying and striking restaurant workers, among other subjects. In some countries, policies of welfare are made and administered completely by the government. In others, like many western European countries, government agencies work in concert with private organizations and entities to comprise a welfare system.
How Does Welfare Create Societal Policies?
In other words, how does the concept of welfare spur governments and political entities to devise the guidelines and principles that we understand as policy? For one thing, the policies or societal guidelines have to be paid for. That brings the issues of raising revenue, taxation and redistribution of wealth into the picture. There must be a clear idea of which people qualify for services addressed by the guidelines. In America, the government is grappling with required medical insurance and how to ensure that everyone can afford it, because health is a priority that is included in our understanding of welfare. In many countries, taxes are higher than they are in the US so that the government can provide health services to the population, but in America, the citizens also see lower taxes as an issue of their welfare, so other means of raising revenue must be considered. Crime impacts the delivery of services and also is a societal burden because of the financial impact of prisons, and so societal policies must be devised to deal with crime.
The whole issue of societal control over the welfare of its citizens is complex and as diverse as the kinds of societies that exist today. The primary ideas of what is good for people and what systems must be in place to ensure that welfare are complicated by the factors that create barriers to the delivery of services in those systems. Social Policy must address the idea of what it considers "welfare" and how to provide it by having guidelines and principles for its administration, as well as methods to control things that interfere with that administration.
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