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What is social policy?

Social policy is any attempt by the government to meet human needs for security, education, work, health and well-being.

Social policy addresses how states and societies respond to global challenges of social, demographic and economic change and of poverty, migration and globalisation. A social policy is therefore aimed at changing, improving or regulating social conditions.


How does social policy affect the family?

The family can be affected both directly and indirectly by social policies. For example:

Laws about marriage and divorce
Social policies aimed to protect children from poor parenting
Housing policy
Economic policy
Education policy


Explain the functionalist perspective on social policy in regards to the family.

Fletcher argues that the growth of welfare services supports the family in performing its functions more effectively. While Parsons claims we have seen a loss of functions, Fletcher argues that the function of the family in contemporary society has rather changed, with the family working in harmony with state polices.

Eg. parents supplement the learning provided by schools, an increased knowledge of health and hygiene means the family plays a greater role in health


Evaluate the functionalist perspective on social policy regarding the family.

(-) it takes an overly positive view of the relationship between the family and the state.

(-) It takes a march of progress view that social policies are acting to improve families' lives over time. Others would argue that policy has been making lives worse for families eg families need to rely on food banks as they don't have enough to live on


Explain the New Right perspective on social policy in regards to the family.

The New Right argue that social policies have encouraged family diversity and undermined the nuclear family through legislation such as divorce laws, introduction of civil partnerships, taxation laws which favour dual-earner couples, affording the same rights to cohabiting couples as married couples eg adoption.

They are concerned about welfare policy creating lone parents and a dependency culture which contributes to creating an underclass.


What are the solutions proposed the new right to amend the impact of social policy on the family.

1. cuts in welfare benefits
2. restrictions on eligibility for benefits
3. policies to incentivise marriage

The New Right generally believe that the state withdrawing from the sphere of the family will improve family life as it will encourage families' self-reliance.


Evaluate the New Right perspective on social policy regarding the family.

(+) Has had a significant influence on the government
(+) Recognises perverse incentives within the benefits system
(-) Old fashioned, outdated and bad for women in its attempt to justify a return to the traditional nuclear family
(-) Regards the traditional nuclear family as natural and best- ignores the dark side of the family such as domestic abuse
(-) Policies often operate to effectively punish children for their parents' actions, resulting in greater child poverty and reducing social mobility


Explain the influence that the New Right has had on social policies.

Thatcher described the family as 'a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a place of refuge and a place of rest' as well as 'the building block of society'.

They introduced section 28 in 1988, a legislation which stopped councils and schools from promoting the teaching of acceptability of homosexuality.

Child Support Agency, 1993, was set up to enforce maintenance payments from absent fathers

Married men's tax allowance- to encourage traditional family structures


How did family social policy change in 1997?

New Labour coming to power in 1997 marked a change in family social policy from being a familistic regime while exclusively promoted the nuclear family to being a more individualistic regime which aimed to extend the right for both mothers and fathers in nuclear or lone-parent families to get better jobs and training.


What were some key policies introduced by New Labour to support parents to work?

Longer maternity leave and three months unpaid leave for both parents, making it easier for both parents to work

Working Families tax credits, which helped with childcare costs

The New Deal for lone parents, helping them return to work

These are examples of state intervention seeking to help families. New Labour also sought to bring over a million children out of poverty through the minimum wage and redistribution

New Labour appointed the first Minister for children and set up the department for children, schools and families.


What support did New Labour offer for alternatives to the heterosexual nuclear family?

Civil partnerships for same-sex couples

Giving unmarried couples the same rights to adopt as married couples

Outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexuality


What policies introduced by New Labour can be seen to have been influenced by the New Right?

Cuts to benefits paid to single parents

Parenting orders for parents of truants and young offenders which emphasised the need for parents to take responsibility of their own children


Evaluate New Labour's family policy.

(+) Large reductions in child poverty

(+) Improved child well-being in international league tables

(-) The New Right argue that Labour's explicit family policy was part of their construction as a 'nanny state and that they interfered too much in family life

(-) Morgan argued that Labour undermined the traditional family, showing bias against single-earner, two parent families

(-) Gewirtz argued that New Labour were engaged in a programme of 'cloning the Blairs', attempting to remake working class parents as middle class ones


Explain the Coalition's view on family policy.

The Coalition can be considered ideologically divided between modernisers and traditionalists. When they came to power in 2010, they stated that sciety should be more family friendly because strong and stable families are the bedrock of a strong and stable society.


Explain the Troubled Families programme.

This was introduced by the coalition government and was brought about by a combination of a report by the centre for social justice called 'Breakdown Britain' and the 2011 riots.

This programme identified and tried to turn around 120,000 households who:

- are involved in crime and antisocial behaviour
- have children who are persistently truant from school
- have welfare dependent adults
- are high cost to the public purse in terms of what they claim from the state or other problems such as poor health

It was estimated that such families cost taxpayers 9 billion pounds a year


What are some criticisms of the troubled families programme?

- the figure 120,000 households seems to be main up or just taken fromt he number of households Labour had previously identified as being vulnerable due to being multiply deprived

- stigmatising and dehumanising to blame these families for their problems in this way

- the programme involved payment by result which encouraged cash-strapped councils to claim success regardless of outcomes

- the programme had no discernible impact on employment, school attendance or offending


Explain the effect of the Coalition's economic policy on families.

The financial crisis of 2008 led to the implementation of austerity, a policy that massively reduced public spending.

This meant benefit cuts were implemented as well as a two child benefit limit. Beyond this, austerity affected children and families in many ways such as the closing of sure start centres, longer waits to see a GP, larger class sizes and higher poverty levels.


What are some other policy announcements that impact the family?

The introduction of same-sex marriage despite resistance from many Tory MPs

New divorce laws to end 'blame game'


Evaluate the Coalition's family policy.

(-) the New Right argue that the Coalition government did not go far enough in addressing family breakdown or strengthen marriage and family life

(-) There was a large increase in child and family poverty

(+) Gay marriage gives gay couples equal rights with heterosexual couples

(+) Many regard divorce law reform as positive for divorcing couples and their children


Outline the Feminist view on family social policy.

Feminists generally regard social policies as benefitting men and women's expense and helping to maintain women's subordinate position in the family as social policies assume an ideal family type and make policies on that basis which often reinforces that family type, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Explain how some policies, according to Feminists, support the patriarchal family.

Childcare- the state covers some of the cost of childcare for pre-school children but not enough to permit parents to work full-time which often restricts women's work

Care for the sick and elderly- government policies assume that the family will care for these individuals and so state support is very limited. This often results in women providing this care as well as having to look after dependent children (the sandwich generation).


Explain how, according to Feminists, some policies appear to be positive but are actually sexist.

(Leonard) Even though policies may appear to support women they may reinforce the patriarchal family eg maternity leave reinforces traditional roles

Child benefit is paid to the mother which assumes that the welfare of the child is her responsibility

Child support/ maintenance reinforces the biological nuclear family ideology and the sexual division of labour

This is how social policies aid the social construction of patriarchal family roles and relationships.


Evaluate the feminist view of family social policy.

(-) Overly negative- march of progress theorists would argue that women have considerably more freedom to challenge the nuclear family today which is partially due to legal changes.

(-) Not all policies are directed at maintaining patriarchy- eg benefits for lone parents or funding related to domestic violence

(-) Some argue that instead of supporting the traditional nuclear male breadwinner model social policy actually undermines this, discouraging women from being able to make the choice to stay home as a mother


Explain gender regimes in relation to family social policy.

Drew uses the concept of gender regimes to describe the different sets of policies in different countries which either encourage r discourage gender equality in the family. She identified two types of regime: Familistic and individualistic.

Gender regimes appear to be a crucial variable in affecting fertility with fertility rates lowest in familistic regimes- policies with higher equality levels seem to produce conditions in which women are more willing to have children.

It is assumed that we are moving towards individualistic gender regimes across the EU however global recession has meant cutbacks to services, meaning there is more pressure on women to take more responsibility for care.

There has also been a trend toward neo-liberal welfare policies in which people are encouraged to use the market rather than the state.


Explain familistic gender regimes.

Familistic gender regimes are where policies are based on a traditional gender division of labour between men and women. These are common is Southern and Eastern Europe.

For example, in Greece there is little state welfare or publicly funded childcare and so women have to rely on support from extended kin and there is a traditional division of labour.


Explain individualistic gender regimes.

Individualistic gender regimes are those where policies are based on the belief that husbands and wives should be treated the same and wives are not assumed to be financially dependent on their husbands so each partner has a separate entitlement to state benefits. There are common across Northern Europe.

For example, in Sweden, policies treat husbands and wives as equally responsible fro breadwinning and domestic tasks and so there are equal opportunities policies, state provision of childcare, parental leave and good quality welfare services. Women are thus less dependent on their husbands and have more opportunities to work.


Explain Donzelot's view on family social policies.

Donzelot takes a conflict perspective, arguing that policy acts as a form of state control and power over families. He uses Foucault's concept of surveillance- Foucault sees power as something diffused throughout society, particularly with professionals such as doctors who use expert knowledge to exercise power.


How, according to Donzelot, does the state police the family?

He argues that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their knowledge to control and change families which he calls the policing of families.

Surveillance is not targeted equally at all social classes, with poorer families being more likely to be seen as problem families and so made into targets for improvement.

For example, parenting orders- parents are forced to attend parenting classes to learn to bring up their children the 'correct' way, which is an example of professionals and social policy trying to control the family.


Evaluate Donzelot's perspective on the family and social policy.

(-) the professionals identified by Donzelot do a lot of important work for vulnerable families, particularly children, and ensuring better outcomes for them

(-) Both Marxists and Feminists criticise Donzelot for failing to identify who benefits from such policies of surveillance