SP430      Half Unit
Social Security Policies

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart OLD2.36


This course is available on the MSc in International Social and Public Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Development), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (LSE and Fudan), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Migration), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All Social Policy Courses are ‘Controlled Access’. Please see the link below for further details on the allocation process.


Course content

The course analyses the purposes, 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 will 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 ageing 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 the course aims to be of interest and relevance to students from all countries. 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.


12 hours and 30 minutes of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Weekly lectures will set the agenda for the week and provide students with an overview of the key issues at stake. Seminars will be made up of two main components. All students will be expected to give a short presentation during the course of the term on an aspect of social security or a recent social security reform in a country they are interested in (perhaps their country of origin). In the remainder of the class, students will debate propositions related to the week's required readings, which will often offer differing perspectives on the topic. 

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write one formative essay during the course of the term, which will enable them to deepen their understanding of the course material and practice critical thinking skills in preparation for the summative essay assignment. Written feedback will be given.

Indicative reading

  • R Walker, Social Security and Welfare: Concepts and Comparisons, Oxford University Press, 2005;
  • J Millar and R Sainsbury (eds), Understanding Social Security, 3rd ed. The Policy Press, 2018;
  • M Frolich et al, Social Insurance, Informality and Labor Markets, Oxford University Press, 2014;
  • J Hanlon, A Barrientos and D Hulme, Just Give Money to the Poor, Lynne Riener Publishers, 2010;
  • J Hills, Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and Us, Policy Press, 2014;
  • ILO, World Social Protection Report 2014/15: Building Economic Recovery, Inclusive Development and Social Justice.


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

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: 28

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills