1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Transformative Social Policy: Lessons from UNRISD Research (Research and Policy Brief)



Social Policy is state intervention that directly affects social welfare, social institutions and social relations. It involves overarching concerns with redistribution, production, reproduction and protection, and works in tandem with economic policy in pursuit of national social and economic goals. Social policy does not merely deal with the “causalities” of social changes and processes; it is also a contribution to the welfare of society as a whole.

Social policy may be embedded in economic policy, when the latter has intended welfare consequences or reflects implicit or explicit socioeconomic priorities, such as reducing politically unacceptable levels of unemployment or producing the human skills for development. But most elements of social policy are explicit, such as direct government provision of social welfare through, for example, broad-based education and health services, subsidies and benefits, social security and pensions, labour market interventions, land reform, progressive taxation and other redistributive policies.

Social policy can also be used to transform gender, racial and other social relations—through, for example, “affirmative action”, anti-discrimination legislation and laws pertaining to marriage and the family. Social policies can also be deployed to regulate existing or to produce new social institutions and norms. Thus an important feature of social policy is the establishment and enforcement of standards and regulations that shape the role of non-state actors and markets in social provisioning.

UNRISD research has highlighted the development role of social policy, even as it addresses issues of intrinsic value such as social protection, equality and social citizenship. The research also offers arguments for rescuing social policy from the residual role it was assigned during much of the 1980s and 1990s.

This Research and Policy Brief presents some of the key lessons from the UNRISD research. How these lessons are absorbed or translated into national policy will, of course, depend on national contexts. Furthermore, the complex interplay among the various policies suggested by these lessons must be borne in mind, as must the importance of context and the historical circumstances of each country.

UNRISD Research and Policy Briefs aim to improve the quality of development dialogue. They situate the Institute’s research within wider social development debates, synthesize its findings and draw out issues for consideration in decision-making processes. They provide this information in a concise format that should be of use to policy makers, scholars, activists, journalists and others.

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  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 25 Oct 2006
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1811-0142
    From: UNRISD