Social Economics and Policy

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Stephen Jenkins OLD.2.29


This course is available on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and International Relations and BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

Places on this course are limited 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. 

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 childcare, education, health care, social care, housing and the environment. Key concepts include supply, demand and elasticities, externalities and market failure, private insurance and social insurance.

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 economics.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to complete exercises as required for classes, a mock exam and will write up to three formative essays during the course of the year. 

Indicative reading

J Le Grand, C Propper & R Robinson, The Economics of Social Problems, Fourth Edition, Palgrave, 2008

R Lipsey and A Crystal, Economics, 13th edition, OUP, 2015 (or earlier edition)

N Barr, Economics of the Welfare State, Fifth Edition, OUP 2012

H Glennerster, Understanding the Cost of Welfare. The Policy Press, 2017

J Hills, Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and US, Revised edition, The Policy Press, 2017

A B Atkinson, Inequality: What Can Be Done? Harvard University Press, 2015.


Take-home assessment (100%) in the ST.

Teachers' comment

SP111 provides an introduction to the economics of social policy. We focus on real-world applications relevant to social and public policy and consider the strengths and weaknesses of conventional economic thinking. It is a full-year core course. Some students will have studied economics in the past and will be continuing with it as part of a joint degree. For others the course will be their first – and perhaps only – exposure to economics. The course is designed to be both accessible and stimulating for students of all backgrounds. We use charts and diagrams, but not maths or equations.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2019/20: 32

Average class size 2019/20: 16

Capped 2019/20: Yes (30)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information