Social Quality as a Tool for Policy Analysis: The Place of Children in Family Policy

Article excerpt

This paper will consider the use of social quality as an analytical tool for the study of social policy, with special emphasis on the social quality of children placed within the framework of family policy. The paper's main focus is on the relationship between parents and children as expressed through family policy. Two central themes are addressed. The first concerns the expectations from the relationship of parents and children as expressed through family policy, and how these policies enhance the social quality of children. The second theme asks the question whether social quality is a useful tool for policy analysis, and is based on a case study analysing a European family policy document.

Social Quality

The framework used, social quality, is a recently developed standard for assessing the economic and social progress of groups, communities and societies. It is different from traditional quality-of-life constructs in that, as well as being a measurement tool, it also has a potentially radical policy dimension. It came into being in 1997 as a result of the frustration of a group of social scientists and policy analysts with the prevailing domination of economic measures of quality of life within societies. Instruments such as national income and gross domestic product lead to the downgrading of social and cultural elements that are of central importance to individual and collective well-being. Social quality, on the other hand places a high value on social justice, human dignity and participation and it demands attention to social policies as well as economic policies (Beck, van der Maesen et al., 1997).

Social quality can be defined as 'the extent to which citizens are able to participate in the social and economic life of their communities under conditions which enhance their well-being and individual potential' (Beck, van der Maesen et al., 2001:7). The components of social quality are socio-economic security, social inclusion, social cohesion and empowerment. These components although not mutually exclusive--they often interact with and complement each other--are intended together to provide a comprehensive model of the social and economic determinants of well-being.

Socio-economic security refers to the way the essential needs of citizens with respect to their daily existence are addressed by the different systems and structures responsible for welfare provision. This is the most straightforward of the components in that it refers to tangibles: protection against poverty, unemployment, homelessness, ill-health and other forms of material deprivation. Domains of this component include economic security, employment, education, housing and health (Berman and Phillips, 2000; Phillips and Berman, 2001a).

Social inclusion relates to belonging and membership at the interpersonal and collective level. Social inclusion domains comprise inclusion in the social security system, labour market inclusion, housing market inclusion, health service coverage and inclusion in education system (Phillips and Berman, 2001a).

Social cohesion concerns those processes and infrastructures that create and underpin social networks, including social norms of solidarity and generosity among community members. It is related to both social capital (World Bank, 1998) and social integration (Klitgaarde and Fedderke, 1995). A high level of social cohesion maximises solidarity and shared identity and enables people 'to exist as real human subjects, as social beings' (Beck, van der Maesen et al., 1997:284). The domains of social cohesion include economic cohesion, social status cohesion, social networks and altruism (Phillips and Berman, 2001a).

Empowerment is defined as the realisation of those human competencies and capabilities necessary to fully participate in social, economic, political and cultural processes. This component of social quality includes domains such as social and cultural empowerment and sociopsychological empowerment (Phillips and Berman, 2001 a). …