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This book has approached its subject matter with a view that human welfare is a universal concern prompting a globally diverse range of social actions. It is also a comparative text, but not one that sees comparison as an add-on to the examination of issues in the UK, Europe or the OECD. Its comparative approach is located in the classic case for comparison as a method essential for those social sciences where experimentation is normally not possible.
It is recognized that an account of social policy of this kind cannot give encyclopaedic attention to all the variations across the many nations of the world. Because of this it has been necessarily guided by the increasing range of attempts to develop typologies of regimes and policies, but it does not offer a detailed examination of the methodologies on which those typologies are based. Furthermore, while it is informed by developments in what is called ‘global social policy’, its aim is to compare and contrast, noting global influences on national policies while not giving micro-level attention to the roles of the global institutions that contribute to social policy development. The chapter discussions also reflect the ways in which many key issues run across conventional policy divides, and have variously dealt with activities and processes that are fundamental to the impetus for, and design and operation of, social policies. Referring to a wide body of different literatures, chapters have also addressed the range of conflicts and competing demands that arise as policy fails to keep up with the realities of people’s lives.
Education is a topic that is sometimes examined as an aspect of ‘social policy’ and sometimes disregarded or given separate treatment in both academic scholarship and data collection: education is not defined as social policy in OECD statistical compilations, for example. There is a substantial specialized comparative education literature within which connections to the wider social policy literature are relatively absent, and similarly, education for development debates are also often marginal to the concerns of studies of global social policy. Within the education studies literature, there is a large body of small-scale comparisons, but international organizations such as the OECD have an interest in commissioning research and assembling international databases that has increased since the 1980s.
Aside from its purpose as a means to general human enrichment, the interest of ostensibly economic organizations in comparing education systems and their outcomes reflects the role of education in the accumulation of ‘human capital’, and its use in the competitive strategies of nation states within the global economy. The national context of education policy and provision may therefore be indicative of both political progress – and how governments respond to the challenges of popular demands for knowledge and the widening of opportunities – and economic progress, and the ways in which politics reconciles these demands in educational investment arrangements. Since the 1980s, along with the expansion of global markets, policy attention to the economic purpose of education policy has largely suffocated debate about its purpose in advancing social progress, and thus the discussion of the shape of national educational provisions is closely allied to national economic growth strategies.
Environmental policy is a large and diverse field which has hitherto held a marginal position in relation to social policy. Huby (1998), an early pioneer in attempts to bring the environment into social policy, presents a classification of the range of problems caused by human activity which potentially lead to policy responses. She details these in terms of the problems caused by the use of natural resources, such as physical degeneration of the landscape, land subsidence, flooding and soil degeneration; the problems caused by the generation of wastes, such as water, land and air pollution – together with a variety of connected issues to encompass less direct effects such as acid deposition and the atmospheric effects associated with climate change; and habitat disruption and the consequent loss of biodiversity. There are, of course, other environmental problems requiring policy responses that are the result of natural events rather than being caused by human activity, such as earth movements and volcanoes, which widens the range of issues that bring the ‘environment’ into the study of social policy. Such a point is also made in Cahill’s argument for recognizing ‘policy dependencies’ (1994, p. 2), and in later work (2010) in his identification of the importance of issues like travel in exacerbating existing welfare inequalities and also in creating new ones. Although geographers have traditionally considered the ways in which ‘place and space’ affects our well-being, environmental concerns go beyond questions of location and are clearly part of the remit of social policy analysis in the contemporary world.
This bold new textbook represents a significant step forward in social policy teaching by combining comparative and global perspectives.
Introducing readers to a wide spread of international challenges and issues, the book shows how insights into policy can be generated using a comparative and multidisciplinary approach. Global in its canvas and analytical in its method, the book:
• explores the economic, social and political contexts of social policy;
• examines in detail its institutions and fields of practice;
• illustrates the field’s main ideas, themes and practices, drawing on a rich international literature and using pertinent and thought-provoking examples.
Authored by two highly respected and experienced academics, this book demonstrates the rewards of studying social policy from an international perspective by avoiding the constraints of a single-nation focus. Clear, authoritative and wide-ranging, it will be essential reading for students of social sciences taking courses covering social policy, social welfare and comparative policy analysis.
The maintenance of good health is fundamental for our welfare, and variations in the extent to which people enjoy good health are central to human inequality. This point is made most starkly with respect to variations in life expectancy (see Chapter 1). To die prematurely, if steps could have been made to prevent that death, is the most fundamental inequality. But when the issue is put starkly it highlights the fact that it is difficult to single out health as a ‘social policy’ issue from all the other policies that have an impact upon health. Although health policy is high on the public policy agenda we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many state activities that affect human health, many of which are negative in impact. Above all, there is a need to remember that nation states, long before modern welfare considerations were on the agenda, were makers of war, and that conflict continues to represent the most significant threat to health and life. Such general propositions may appear far removed from the explicit public policy health agenda today, but it is important to consider differences between nations not only with respect to the extent to which citizens enjoy specific policies to promote health but also in terms of the extent to which the broad negative influences on health and well-being are curbed.
Perhaps inevitably, passing over the most striking negative influences, an international conference at Alma-Ata (WHO, 1978) ‘expressing the need for urgent action by all governments, all health and development workers, and the world community to protect and promote the health of all the people of the world’, continued with a sequence of affirmations starting from the following:
health, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right and that the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal whose realization requires the action of many other social and economic sectors in addition to the health sector.
Property ‘markets’ have been increasingly significant in policy debate since the 2008 global financial crisis. The notion of ‘property’ as an abstract factor in economic systems is in sharp contrast with its meaning in everyday life, where to most people it represents the dwelling in which they live their lives. Ideally a dwelling represents a place of security, meeting emotional and psychological needs beyond the more obvious need for ‘shelter’. In reality, shelter is the best that many people are able to hope for, and for a substantial proportion of the world’s population even shelter in its most basic understanding is inadequate, lacking basic sanitation and amenities and subject to high levels of insecurity. This chapter considers the variety of housing systems and problems that exist around the globe, what they share and how they differ. First, it is useful to consider why housing is often excluded from analyses of the welfare state, and whether the notion that housing is somehow different from other policy domains is helpful to or impedes understanding of worlds of social policy.
The key reason that housing has been considered difficult to assess is that, while good and secure housing can be seen as necessary to satisfy human need (Doyal and Gough, 1991), the fulfilment of that need involves the provision of a property to be used consistently over a long period of time. Such a property is often seen as an ‘asset’, yielding long-term gain and susceptible to profitable transfer. Those terms – ‘property’ and ‘asset’ – apply not just to the form this commonly takes of owner-occupied housing but also to state and private ownership.
Income security policy is collective action to protect individuals against income deficiencies. It is often alternatively called ‘social security’ and is sometimes described as ‘social protection’, though this concept tends to embrace more than simply income security. An American term – ‘welfare’ – has increasingly entered into English-language discussions of this topic, but this tends to blur important distinctions between different approaches to the provision of income security inasmuch as it is a term particularly linked to last resort means-tested support, and consequently also often involves a pejorative usage. Collective action to provide income security may be taken by a variety of social actors, including employers, charities and voluntary organizations. In some circumstances it may even be appropriate to identify the extended family as playing this role, particularly in countries where capacity for public funding is more limited, state administrative architecture is still emerging and employment remains largely informal. However, when analyzing income security systems in advanced economies, these are systems in which the state has a dominant role.
Income security entitlements may thus be seen as an addition to measures an individual may take to protect her or himself. An important element of context here is philosophical assumptions about the extent to which collective and/or state responsibilities exist. The variations around these can be highlighted by the contrasts offered in the recent history of Chinese income security policies. In urban China, after the establishment of a socialist society by Mao Zedong in the 1940s, the expectation was that publicly owned enterprises would provide an ‘iron rice bowl’ (Leung, 1994): support from the cradle to the grave regardless of work capacity.
This chapter expands on the themes in Chapter 1, exploring the particular importance of concerns about inequality and social justice for ideas of social policy. This represents a key theme for comparative analysis in that the salience of ideas about inequality in political debate influences differences between social policies across countries. The chapter will examine global and regional trends in inequality as well as the ways in which these spatial dimensions intersect with other forms of structural inequalities and social divisions in key areas of need satisfaction and measures of welfare. The chapter will consider the idea of inequality as it informs the range of policies in practice, and in policy discourse at national and supranational level, and will discuss the association of discourse and practice with the politics of welfare.
Discussions of the origins of social policies treat concerns about inequality and social justice as not necessarily tied to explanations of policy development. Interpretation of social policy origins is a matter of some intellectual controversy, often driven by ideology, in which it seems impossible to arrive at definitive conclusions. This point is revisited at the end of the chapter, as a link to the chapters that follow. Inequality is given primary attention here since one of the challenges to comprehensive social policy analysis involves the assertion that it is primarily concerned with exceptional casualties of society, in a context in which it is economic policy that is crucial for overall social progress. Such a view, of course, largely excludes the possibility that market systems have a role to play in the production of social casualties, and it is not the view that is taken in this book.
Writing when pressures towards welfare retrenchment were growing, Esping-Andersen observed that ‘a theory that seeks to explain welfare-state growth should also be able to understand its retrenchment and decline’ (1990, p. 32), and stressed the extent to which the coalitions that contributed to its growth also protect the welfare state from decline. This is a theme taken up in his later work, and echoed by many of those following his approach. Gamble has since indicated the ‘irreversibility’ of the welfare state, since the variety of welfare regimes all belong to the same transformation of capitalism where the welfare state ‘has become embedded in both the politics and the political economy of all the Western economies’ (Gamble, 2016, pp. 28–9).
The trouble is that there are qualifications that need to be made to this generalization. First, it only applies to the advanced capitalist states, and even within them there are grounds for rejecting the view that all should be called ‘welfare states’. Second, a problem which is particularly evident in Esping-Andersen’s approach, and which Gamble implicitly endorses, is that the notion of distinguishing regimes implies that some will be stronger than others. In other words, regime theory as originally developed primarily offers an explanation of differences in the growth of social policy in a specific number of states. It does not offer much in predictive terms either for the explanation of retrenchment or for events in states very different to Esping-Andersen’s original sample. Furthermore, in its emphasis on patterns it avoids the determinism of the theories it replaced, by an emphasis on the economic, political and cultural factors that have influenced the diverse policies it identifies.