SP430      Half Unit
Social Security Policies

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart


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 (Education), 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. Furthermore, the course will 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. The course will also look at the role of social security in protecting household incomes in times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

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.


All teaching will be in accordance with the LSE Academic Code (https://info.lse.ac.uk/current-students/lse-academic-code) which specifies a "minimum of two hours taught contact time per week when the course is running in the Autumn Term (AT) and/or Winter Term (WT)". Social Policy courses are predominantly taught through a combination of in-person Lectures and In person classes/seminars. Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.

This course is taught in WT.

Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.


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%) in the WT.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 22.7
Merit 57.1
Pass 16.8
Fail 3.4

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2022/23: 49

Average class size 2022/23: 16

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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