Making Social Policy: The Mechanisms of Government and Politics, and How to Investigate Them

Making Social Policy: The Mechanisms of Government and Politics, and How to Investigate Them

Making Social Policy: The Mechanisms of Government and Politics, and How to Investigate Them

Making Social Policy: The Mechanisms of Government and Politics, and How to Investigate Them


Making Social Policy is a new and original textbook on policy making in British central government. Starting from first principles, it examines policy making through concepts drawn not from academic theories and interpretations but directly from the experiences and perceptions of the politicians, officials and others involved in the decision making process. Peter Levin sets out a range of techniques for doing this, and applies them to five case studies of policy making by the Thatcher and Major governments. He elegantly brings out the various mechanisms at work, including the strategies deployed by the various participants. These case studies, which bring together material from a variety of sources cover:

• housing and education policy

• social security reform

• the poll tax

• the annual public expenditure cycle

• Europe: the Social Charter and the protection of women workers.

Making Social Policy is also about how to study policy making. It shows you how to recognize a policy when you see one, and how to make your own analysis of the mechanisms by which government produces and adopts policy proposals, and by which legislative and other measures subsequently come about. Peter Levin also demonstrates how many theoretical perspectives employed by academic writers comprehensively fail to capture the reality of what actually takes place.

Making Social Policy will be essential reading for students of social policy, politics, government, and public administration.


What this book is about

This book is about two things. First, it is about the phenomenon known as ‘policy making’. It examines the mechanisms by which the government of the United Kingdom (and in one case the governing institutions of the European Union) makes ‘policy’, and by which legislative and other measures come into being, especially in ‘social policy’ fields like education, housing and social security. Second, it is about how to study those mechanisms. It offers a methodology: it suggests where we can find useful material, how we can ‘interrogate’ that material for relevant evidence, and how we can interpret that evidence and draw reasoned conclusions from it.

The role of central government in the social policy fields is a particularly interesting one to study, because it allows us to explore the interaction between government and society, to see how ministers and officials perceive and respond to circumstances in the ‘real world’. It is interesting also because people in central government depend on other people, in other organizations, actually to undertake education, provide and manage housing, deliver social security benefits etc., and so we have an opportunity to explore the consequences of this dependence too.

The material that I use is presented in the form of five ‘case studies’ of policy making in the 1980s and early 1990s, under the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and latterly John Major. The case studies are of very different kinds. The first is a case study in the formulating of intentions: it deals with the far-reaching proposals on education and housing that were published in the Conservative election manifesto of 1987, after Thatcher had turned her attention to the reform of the ‘welfare state’. The second is a case study in the . . .

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