Not available in 2020/21
SP332      Half Unit
Social Security Policies

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart OLD 2.36


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

This course is only available to third year undergraduate students.

Course content

The course analyses the purpose, design and impact of social security policies, meaning policies that protect and support household income at times when income from the labour market does not suffice. The need for social security arises both from demographic factors that affect nearly everyone during their life course - childhood, parenthood, old age - and from risk factors that end up affecting only some - unemployment, sickness and disability.

The course takes a comparative approach, examining differences in the design of social security policies across welfare regimes and drawing on examples from different countries. Students will develop an understanding of the challenges and trade-offs that arise in designing social security policies to meet multiple goals, will further their knowledge about the ways systems function in practice, and will develop the tools for assessing the structure and effectiveness of social security in any given country. The course will also consider how successfully social security systems are adapting to meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century, including an aging population, migration, and the changing nature of employment brought about by rapid technological change.

Most of the examples in the lectures and readings relate to higher- and middle-income countries, but many of the issues covered are also relevant in countries where social security systems are less developed. Students will be encouraged to further their understanding of social security in their country of origin, or another country of their choice, and to draw on this knowledge in classes. 


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of classes in the MT.

There will be no formal teaching in Reading Week (Week 6), but there will be an optional film on a relevant topic, followed by an informal discussion. 

Formative coursework

Students will write one essay (1500 words) during MT, and will receive feedback in preparation for the summative assessment.

Indicative reading

  • R Walker (2005) Social Security and Welfare: Concepts and Comparisons. Open University Press.
  • J Hills (2015) Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and Us. The Policy Press.
  • J Millar and R Sainsbury (2018) (eds) Understanding Social Security, Third Edition. The Policy Press.
  • P Spicker (2011) How Social Security Works: An introduction to benefits in Britain. The Policy Press
  • J Kvist et al (2012) Changing Social Equality: The Nordic Welfare Model in the 21st Century. The Policy Press. 
  • N Barr and P Diamond (2009) Pension Reform: A Short Guide. Oxford University Press.
  • M Frolich et al (2015) Social Insurance, Informality and Labor Markets: How to Protect Workers While Creating Good Jobs. Oxford University Press.

An extended reading list will be provided, with specific readings for each week's topic.


Essay (100%, 2500 words) in the LT.

The essay will require students to demonstrate their ability to apply the knowledge and understanding they have gained on the course to evaluate the design and impact of policies in different countries. Questions will be released towards the end of the Michaelmas Term.

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: 8

Average class size 2019/20: 7

Capped 2019/20: Yes (15)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Communication