Social Economics, Politics and Policy

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart OLD 2.36


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Social Policy, BSc in Social Policy and Economics, BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Places on this course are limited to 45 and priority is given to Social Policy students in the first instance. If places remain available once Social Policy students have been accommodated, they will be offered on a first come first served basis to students from outside the Department. If you would like to take SA104 as an outside option, please contact the Undergraduate Programme Manager who will be able to advise you on availability (contact details available on the Social Policy web pages).

This course is not available to third year students.


No prior knowledge of economics is required.

Course content

This course provides an introduction to the economics of social policy and the economics of the income distribution. The course begins by introducing basic economic concepts and principles and discussing their application to different social policy areas, including health care, social care, education and housing. Key concepts include supply, demand and elasticities, externalities and market failure, private insurance and social insurance, and quasi-markets. The course goes on to analyse the distribution of household income and the drivers of poverty and inequality, including unemployment, low wages and wage inequality. It covers concepts of human capital and productivity and looks at a range of policy responses, including minimum wage legislation, trade union policy, government economic management, taxation and the social security system. Throughout, the course emphasises the importance of understanding political goals in assessing the effectiveness or justice of economic and social policies, and seeks to encourage students to draw on both theory and empirical evidence in addressing its core questions. The course is taught without mathematics and is designed to be suitable both for students with no prior knowledge of economics and for those who have taken A level.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Formative coursework

Four formative essays will be required during the year, and students will be expected to make at least two presentations to the class.

Indicative reading

J Le Grand, C Propper & R Robinson, The Economics of Social Problems, Fourth Edition, Palgrave, 2008; A B Atkinson, N Barr, Economics of the Welfare State, Fifth Edition, OUP 2012; J Le Grand, The Other Invisible Hand Delivering Public Services through Choice and Competition, Princeton, 2007; H Glennerster, Understanding the Finance of Welfare. The Policy Press, 2009; J Hills, Inequality and the State, OUP, 2004; J Hills, Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and US, The Policy Pres, 2014; A B Atkinson, Inequality: What Can Be Done? Harvard University Press, 2015.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 15.7
2:1 66.3
2:2 15.7
Third 1.1
Fail 1.1

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2016/17: 46

Average class size 2016/17: 17

Capped 2016/17: Yes (45)

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 100%



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