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Social policy consists of guidelines, principles, legislation and activities that affect the living conditions conducive to human welfare, such as a person's quality of life. The Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics defines social policy as "an interdisciplinary and applied subject concerned with the analysis of societies' responses to social need", which seeks to foster in its students a capacity to understand theory and evidence drawn from a wide range of social science disciplines, including economics, sociology, psychology, geography, history, law, philosophy and political science. The Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University describes social policy as "public policy and practice in the areas of health care, human services, criminal justice, inequality, education, and labor". Social policy might also be described as actions that affect the well-being of members of a society through shaping the distribution of and access to goods and resources in that society. Social policy often deals with wicked problems.
The discussion of 'social policy' in the United States and Canada can also apply to governmental policy on social issues such as tackling racism, LGBT issues (such as same-sex marriage) and the legal status of abortion, guns, euthanasia, recreational drugs and prostitution. In other countries, these issues would be classified under health policy and domestic policy.
The study of social policy can either be a specialization as part of a public policy degree, such as at McGill University, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Harris School of Public Policy, and the Hertie School of Governance, or as a stand alone degree in social policy such as the University of York, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The earliest example of direct intervention by government in human welfare dates back to Umar ibn al-Khattāb's rule as the second caliph of Islam in the 6th century. He used zakat collections and also other governmental resources to establish pensions, income support, child benefits, and various stipends for people of the non-Muslim community.
In the West, proponents of scientific social planning such as the sociologist Auguste Comte, and social researchers, such as Charles Booth, contributed to the emergence of social policy in the first industrialised countries following the Industrial Revolution. Surveys of poverty exposing the brutal conditions in the urban slum conurbations of Victorian Britain supplied the pressure leading to changes such as the decline and abolition of the poor law system and Liberal welfare reforms. Other significant examples in the development of social policy are the Bismarckian welfare state in 19th century Germany, social security policies in the United States introduced under the rubric of the New Deal between 1933 and 1935, and the National Health Service Act 1946 in Britain.
Social policy in the 21st century is complex and in each state it is subject to local and national governments, as well as supranational political influence. For example, membership of the European Union is conditional on member states' adherence to the Social Chapter of European Union law [clarify]
Social policy aims to improve human welfare and to meet human needs for education, health, housing and economic security. Important areas of social policy are wellbeing and welfare, poverty reduction, social security, justice, unemployment insurance, living conditions, animal rights, pensions, health care, social housing, family policy, social care, child protection, social exclusion, education policy, crime and criminal justice, urban development, and labor issues.
The United States was a pioneer in generous social spending (relative to comparable countries), as it provided substantial social spending for Civil War veterans and their families. However, the United States would go on to lag behind other advanced industrial democracies in social spending.
Religious, racial, ideological, scientific and philosophical movements and ideas have historically influenced American social policy, for example, John Calvin and his idea of pre-destination and the Protestant Values of hard work and individualism. Moreover, Social Darwinism helped mold America's ideas of capitalism and the survival of the fittest mentality. The Catholic Church's social teaching has also been considerably influential to the development of social policy.
United States politicians who have favored increasing government observance of social policy often do not frame their proposals around typical notions of welfare or benefits; instead, in cases like Medicare and Medicaid, President Lyndon Johnson presented a package called the Great Society that framed a larger vision around poverty and quality of life. Insurance has been a growing policy topic, and a recent example of health care law as social policy is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act formed by the 111th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on March 23, 2010.
Moreover, former president Franklin D. Roosevelt's ground breaking New Deal is a paragon example of Social Policy that focused predominantly on a program of providing work and stimulating the economy through public spending on projects, rather than on cash payment. The programs were in response to the Great Depression affecting the United States in the 1930s.
An American education policy proposal from a Republican president is the No Child Left Behind Act. This Act took effect on January 8, 2002, and was put in place to raise standards in education so different individuals can have better educational outcomes. The No Child Left Behind Act requires every state to assess students on basic skills to receive federal funding. However, this Act did not create a national standard since each state develops their own set of standards and assessments. Critics of most all social policies point toward a depiction of a welfare state on the make of a Hobbesian Leviathan.
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