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What are Social Policies?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Social policies are policies which are designed to address social issues, ranging from poverty to racism. Many governments have agencies which formulate and administrate social policies, and governments approach social issues in a variety of ways. Europe is often regarded as a very progressive model when it comes to social policy, with a number of far-reaching programs which are designed to promote equality in the European Union. Social policy reform can also take place outside the government, as seen when community organizations work to support disadvantaged citizens.

The idea behind social policy is that taking steps to benefit human welfare is a generally good idea. The immediate effect of social policies can be economic and social improvement in a nation, but many people also feel that benefiting other humans is intrinsically good, even if it confers no immediate benefits. In fact, research on social policies seems to suggest that attempts at equalization do benefit society in both the short and long term; for example, pushing for equal inclusion of women in the workplace has resulted in a larger and more diverse workforce, and providing health care through the government to all citizens in Europe has lowered health care costs in addition to creating a healthier and more productive population.

Some examples of social policies include: government pensions, welfare for the poor, food stamps, affordable housing initiatives, health care, unemployment benefits, equal opportunity employment laws, antidiscrimination laws, and policy initiatives which are designed to benefit disadvantaged people in society. For instance, many nations encourage their colleges and universities to accept students regardless of need, with the goal of giving people at an economic disadvantage the chance to go to college, improving their opportunities.

Government social policies can include explicit laws which are designed to address social issues of concern, such as laws which prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or creed. They can also involve programs and initiatives which are used to promote progress on social issues in some way, such as incentives to developers who build affordable housing, rural health access programs, and literacy programs.

Within a society, companies and organizations may also be involved in the implementation of social policies. Companies which want to be viewed as socially responsible, for example, may donate to causes which support improvement on social issues, or may have internal policies which support pushes for equality. Social policy development also takes place in a number of organizations large and small which create programs to address social issues or lobby the government to make functional legal changes which will increase social opportunities.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon976519 — On Nov 03, 2014

Is the right to die movement considered a social policy?

By anon293762 — On Sep 27, 2012

How are social theories and social policies related, with examples?

By hangugeo112 — On Dec 25, 2010


Yes, but that doesn't seem to include tariffs and restriction on free trade. Why should the government have a say in determining that sort of restriction? Poverty outside of the US would be better addressed if trade was freer.

By Armas1313 — On Dec 23, 2010


Social policy is aimed at empowering the poor members of a society and enabling them to benefit themselves and others. A good democratic government is required to step in and benefit the members of its nation when economic woes strike. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are outlined as requisites for the members of a good society, and social rules are established in order to reinforce these. I think that this basic understanding of rights determines where the line should be drawn.

By GigaGold — On Dec 22, 2010

I wonder where we should draw the line in terms of social policies. It seems to me that many of them infringe upon a free economy and enforce tariffs and unnecessary work restraints which may cripple businesses.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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