Social Policy and Social
In the social sciences theoretical conceptions sometimes anticipate life, and become a guide for men of action. In periods of violent change, however, the theorist cannot keep pace with life. Reality then changes more rapidly than does reflective thought, which is left breathless by the rate of change at a time a deep breath is most needed.
S. Ossowski (1983:3–4)
Social policy is a mechanism for the allocation of a society's material and human resources for the purpose of achieving certain outcomes that bring into fruition the society's dominant values and corresponding interests, objectives and goals. In its essence, therefore, social policy is concerned with the regulation of social relationships for the purpose of affirming any such values and interests through the implementation of appropriate means designed to achieve corresponding ends.
In the common understanding of the term, social policy conveys the notions of welfare and social security, achieved through distribution of income support and provision of welfare services. Traditionally inherent in these notions are certain abstract but taken-for-granted or self-evident terms, such as equity, equality, fairness, social justice, or even altruism. However, while such terms are usually voiced in statements on social policy by any government, the meaning given to the terms will vary from one government to another, from one political party to another, or from one country to another. Any such differences will be influenced or determined by the relevant actors' philosophical and ideological beliefs, economic conditions at a given time, or political expediency. This means that the same or similar policy rhetoric may contain significantly different values and different aims, and produce correspondingly different outcomes. Any such differences are not always easy to distinguish, because since the 1940s the discourse and debates on social policy have been conducted in the context of 'the welfare state' – a large umbrella term under which a diverse range of social policies have usually been accommodated.
As a field of study in the social sciences, social policy has not developed as a distinct intellectual discipline, with a body of theory of its own. Being concerned with the allocation and reallocation of resources, social policy is related to economic policy, and in