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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 7: Social Policy in a Development Context

24 Aug 2001



In this paper, the author's objective is to demonstrate how social policies can be used to enhance social capacities for economic development without, in the process, eroding the intrinsic value of the social objectives that have been elaborated and are being implemented by decision makers.

Social policy must become more than just an instrument that counteracts policy failures or developmental disasters, argues this paper. It must be conceived as a key instrument that works in tandem with economic policy to ensure equitable and socially sustainable development. Thus, the overall objective of this study is to dispel the notion that economic policy is determined first and social policy is left to address resulting social consequences.

The importance of social policy in the context of development is being rediscovered. The paper finds that factors behind this revival include: the reappearance of poverty in the discourse of national and international policy makers; the renewed interest in economic growth; the recognition that social development is a determinant of economic development; and renewed interest in social equity and in social security in the context of globalization and the greater vulnerability of ever-larger groups of people.

The paper finds that there is a need for context-sensitive research on the links between macroeconomic performance and the fundamental goal of raising human welfare. There is also a clear need to bridge the hiatus between theoretical and empirical findings and social policy making, and between means and ends.

The paper thus argues for the necessity of research that brings together diverse strands of analysis and encourages more explicit consideration of their policy implications in different political, economic and social settings.

Amongst other things, the study shows that while the provision of social services and reduction of poverty have intrinsic value, they constitute important instruments for economic development. Progress requires the type of dialogue between economists and other social scientists that is often lacking in social development debates, but is necessary to the advancement of humankind.

Thandika Mkandawire is the Director of UNRISD.

Order PPSPD 7 from UNRISD ($5 for readers in the North; $2.50 for readers in the South).