What is social policy?

International, interdisciplinary and applied



Professor Lucinda Platt

Department of Social Policy

Social policy is concerned with the ways societies across the world meet human needs for security, education, work, health and wellbeing. Social policy addresses how states and societies respond to global challenges of social, demographic and economic change, and of poverty, migration and globalisation. Social policy analyses the different roles of: national governments, the family, civil society, the market, and international organisations in providing services and support across the life course from childhood to old age. These services and support include child and family support, schooling and education, housing and neighbourhood renewal, income maintenance and poverty reduction, unemployment support and training, pensions, health and social care. Social policy aims to identify and find ways of reducing inequalities in access to services and support between social groups defined by socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, migration status, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age, and between countries.

At LSE, social policy is explicitly international, interdisciplinary and applied.

  • International: LSE social policy explicitly addresses social and public policy from both the perspective of advanced welfare systems and that of developing countries. It pays close attention to the different configurations of public policy actors (state, family, market, civil society) involved in delivering social welfare in different contexts.
  • Interdisciplinary: The LSE approach to social and public policy involves a broad interdisciplinary understanding of the conditions, institutions and mechanisms of social change, drawing on perspectives from anthropology, criminology, demography, economics, political science, sociology, and development.
  • Applied: LSE social policy emphasises the analytical and conceptual skills necessary for interrogating social problems, analysing how social policies are implemented, and evaluating the (positive and negative) consequences of those policies, across a range of topic areas, and across high, middle and low income country contexts. 

History of the Department

The four founders of the LSE, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw were committed to establishing a fairer society by studying the causes of poverty and analysing inequalities. These concerns are at the heart of LSE Social Policy today. LSE social policy department itself has been addressing questions of social provision, inequality, and policies to address social problems since 1912. In this year, the Department of Social Science and Administration took over the School of Sociology, founded by the Charity Organisation Society to provide training for welfare workers, and also received a donation from Ratan Tata to support research into poverty, inequality and welfare. The department was thus jointly created for teaching and research. It was renamed the Department of Social Policy in 1999.

Learn more about key figures in the foundations of the LSE social policy department on the LSE timeline and through the LSE digital library.

Learn more about LSE Pioneers in Social Policy here.