Definition and Functions of Social Welfare Policy:
Setting the Stage for Social Change
Social welfare policy—the way society responds or does not respond to social need—may seem like a distant and remote subject. Yet, as chapter 1 has shown, it touches us as individuals every day. Each of us and our friends and relatives use social welfare services at various points in our lives, and we all pay taxes to support social programs so that they will be available to us when we need them. We have also seen that social welfare policy has an enormous influence on our work as professionals. The decisions that the gov- ernment makes about social welfare policy shape the lives of our clients, the extent to which we can help them, and the ability of social agencies to fulfill their missions. These decisions determine who pays for and who benefits from government spending, how well or poorly people live, the nature of their relationships to each other, the overall quality of life, and the nation's com- mitment to social justice. It sets a tone for the way individuals in the wider society think of their obligation to people in need—either encouraging or discouraging social responsibility for others.
Although many students entering a social work program have never heard the term social welfare policy before, in fact most people have strong opinions about policy issues such as welfare for single mothers, managed health care, and affirmative action. Indeed social welfare policy is controversial because it involves political conflict over the nature and causes of and solutions to social problems such as poverty, racial discrimination, and the welfare of chil-