Definition, Characteristics, and Objectives of Social Policy

Broadly speaking, the term ‘policy’ refers to the general guidelines or principles, which give direction to a particular course of action by the government or by an organization. It also refers to, in a very specific sense, an intended or executed course of action.

Definitions of Social Policy

An attempt to define social policy is beset with many practical difficulties. Is there one social policy with capital S and P or are there multiple social policies with small s and small p?  This question is relevant because we have social policies compartmentalized into a policy for scheduled castes, a policy for backward classes, a policy for weaker sections, a policy for women, a policy for children and so on. Does an addition of these policies make up a “whole” social policy? We have Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Rights, and the preamble to the constitution. Do these make up a social policy?  In the light of the above dilemmas, in the following section, we attempt to define social policy:

Social policy can be referred to both in the plural and singular case. When referred to in the plural, it denotes the comprehensive and integrated set of policies in the social sectors such as health, social welfare, education, and social security, etc., when used in singular the term social policy refers to a specific governmental policy such as the policy towards the SCs and STs, the policy for providing universal education etc.

The following are definitions of social policy:

According to Kulkarni “Social policy is the strategy of action indicating means and methods to be followed in successive phases to achieve the declared social objectives.”

Marshall states that the term, “Social policy refers to the policy of governments with regard to action having a direct impact on the welfare of citizens, by providing them with services or income.”

According to Prof. Titmuss, social policy represents a summation of acts of government, deliberately designed to improve the welfare of people.

While summarizing the whole discussion, it can be said that social policy is a deliberate action on the part of individuals, collectivities, and governments, undertaken to organize services, opportunities, and social action so as to affect the lifestyles of people and initiate a process to prevent, postpone, initiate and manage change.

Characteristics of Social Policy

  • Many writers on social policy including such well-known names like Titmuss, Donnison, and Boulding have stressed that the distinguishing trait of social policy is its distributional or redistributive character. Thus, the concern of social policy is with social and economic justice based on the principle of equality, which means that the redistribution of social resources should take place from the better-off sections to the worse-off sections of society.
  • The second characteristic of social policy is its concern with weaker and vulnerable sections of society such as the poor, women, children, disabled, and backward classes so as to bring them at par with the rest of society. Thus, social policies visualize an egalitarian society where inequalities are reduced to a minimum level.
  • Another characteristic of social policy is that social policies do not exist in isolation. These are determined to a large extent by the socio-political scenario of a nation, its economic viability, and last but not least, by the sociocultural ethos of the people of the nation. Now after Liberalization, Globalization, and Privatization, policies have become global and changes in one corner of the world definitely leave an impact on the rest of the world. Live example of this feature is the opening up of the economy by most third world countries in accordance with guidelines of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Objectives of Social Policy

  • It is frequently stated that social policies aim to bring about social change. In the final analysis, all social policies are government policies as stated by Marshall and Boulding. As part of the operation of the government, social policy cannot hope to introduce fundamental changes in society, which would mean undermining the status quo on which the government rests. Whether in socialist countries or in the capitalist countries, the social policy cannot usher in the fundamental structural change. It can only achieve moderate social change; whereby certain undesirable conditions of a section or sections of society are redressed and as a result social tension is minimized.
  • Pinker has argued that the objective of social policy is the minimization of suffering and the maximization of welfare.
  • Another objective of social policy is the improvement of the quality of life of people. It is necessary to ask whose quality of life that we want to improve? This is a pertinent question in developing countries like India where a majority of the population live in conditions of serious deprivation, without being able to get even the basic necessities for survival. They are said to be living in absolute poverty or below the poverty line. According to the World Bank, the estimate of the poor population in developing countries is 57%. It should be very clear that the limited resources of the developing countries cannot be utilized to improve the quality of life of the population of these countries. It has been very well documented by several studies that the major beneficiaries of development planning in the Third World have been a numerically small fraction of the population. So, the aim of social policy should be to redistribute social resources so that the quality of life of the top 20% of the population does not keep on improving at the cost of the provision of the basic necessities for the very survival of 50 or 60% of the population. It is for this reason that Mahboob-ul-Haq has stated that the aim of development planning in the Third World should be stated as the preservation of the very life itself and not as the improvement of the quality of life, which presumes that the basic survival needs have been met.

Additional Notes:

Social policy refers to a set of government actions, laws, regulations, and programs designed to promote the well-being and welfare of individuals and communities within a society. These policies are aimed at addressing various social issues and challenges, such as poverty, inequality, healthcare, education, employment, and social justice. Social policy typically involves the allocation of resources, the establishment of standards and guidelines, and the provision of services to improve the quality of life and social outcomes for the population. Here are some key characteristics and objectives of social policy:

Characteristics of Social Policy:

1.      Government Involvement:

Social policies are typically implemented and overseen by government authorities at various levels, including local, regional, and national governments.

2.      Regulation and Legislation:

Social policies often involve the creation of laws and regulations to guide and enforce specific actions or standards within society.

3.      Resource Allocation:

Governments allocate financial and human resources to fund and support social programs and services.

4.      Targeted Populations:

Social policies are often designed to address the needs of specific target populations, such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, or low-income individuals and families.

5.      Social Objectives:

These policies are driven by social objectives, such as reducing poverty, promoting equality, and improving access to healthcare and education.

6.      Long-Term Planning:

Social policies often involve long-term planning to create sustainable solutions to social issues.

Objectives of Social Policy:

1.      Social Justice:

One of the primary objectives of social policy is to promote social justice by reducing inequalities and ensuring that individuals have equal opportunities to lead fulfilling lives.

2.      Economic Security:

Social policies aim to provide economic security to individuals and families by offering safety nets, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and housing support.

3.      Healthcare and Education:

These policies seek to improve access to quality healthcare and education for all members of society, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

4.      Poverty Reduction:

Social policies often include measures to alleviate poverty by providing financial assistance, job training, and access to affordable housing.

5.      Social Welfare:

They aim to enhance overall social welfare by addressing issues such as child welfare, elder care, and support for individuals with disabilities.

6.      Labor Market Regulation:

Social policies can include labor market regulations to protect workers’ rights, ensure fair wages, and provide workplace safety standards.

7.      Family and Community Support:

Many social policies promote strong families and communities by offering support for parenting, childcare, and community development programs.

8.      Social Cohesion:

Social policy contributes to social cohesion by fostering a sense of belonging and community among diverse groups and individuals.

9.      Environmental Sustainability:

In some cases, social policies may address environmental concerns and promote sustainable practices to protect the well-being of future generations.

Social policies are shaped by the values, priorities, and political ideologies of a society, and they can vary significantly from one country to another. They are an important tool for governments to address societal challenges and enhance the overall quality of life for their citizens.



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