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Essay: Discuss, using examples, why the concept of need is important within social policy

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  • Discuss, using examples, why the concept of need is important within social policy
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Discuss, using examples, why the concept of need is important within social policy. What other factors influence the making of social policy?
‘Social policies aim to improve human welfare and to meet human needs for education, health, housing and social security’ (Ken Blakemore, 2007, p.1). In other words, this could be viewed as describing social policy as the route to social change. A social problem is often defined when society’s needs are not being met, which are then as a result extended into the wider public and ‘becomes a more widely shared experience in the community’ (Pete Alcock, 2016). Often the solution to an unmet need, or social problem, is the implementation of social policy. The concept of human needs can be defined in two ways, absolute needs and relative needs. Absolute needs are the basic needs that humans have to ensure survival. Whereas, relative needs are more of a social construction in which individuals ‘need’ particular material items, in order to adhere with their particular social surroundings. This essay will explore the answer as to why the concept of need is so important within social policy, drawing to the conclusion that understanding what needs are not being met is a vital process in understanding social problems; to then introduce a policy accordingly. The making of a social policy is also dependent on a number of different factors such as; external factors, pressure groups, research studies, individuals, the media, as well as constraints. This essay will analysis arguably the most important factors of; external pressures, individuals and the media, and constraints.

The concept of need is so important within social policy as it is vital in effecting specific policies that are implemented. Having an understanding of needs also helps researchers of social policies and problems to interpret why a social problem has come about. A key example of this in the UK could be demonstrated with the social problem of homelessness. By understanding the importance of need in this scenario, researchers were able to deduce that the cause of this social problem was not due to the individual, but ‘the single most common cause of homeless people is poverty’ (Christian, 2003, p.107), meaning that people are unable to afford the high prices that the commercial market offers. As a result of this, the government has responded by implementing a benefits schemes as a social policy, where an allowance is provided to those who struggle having a steady income, to allow them to afford housing(, 2018). In conjunction to this, the government have also implemented a policy of social housing. This policy essentially allows properties to be sold to those who are getting a steady income but at a cheaper price than what the commercial sector is offering. This social policy has then meant that individuals can have a house to live in, instead of the alternative scenario where they could be living in unfit environments or potentially be homeless. The issue of homelessness is ever increasing with figures showing that number had increased to ‘4,751 people bedded down outside overnight in 2017, up 15% on the previous year’ (Butler, 2018). In reaction to this unmet need has encouraged a discussion of a revised social housing policy (2018) with a main goal of ‘providing safe, secure homes that help people get on with their lives’ (, 2018). Although it has not solved the issue as there are still ‘1.8 million households on the waiting list of social housing’ (, 2015), it has made steps towards aiding the issue to be resolved. This therefore demonstrates, with the use of a case study, how important need is in social policy as it allows the social problem to be broken down in to specific needs that are not being met to encourage social policies to be brought in accordingly.
The formation of a social policy is a very complex process, with a number of different aspects to take into consideration. Furthermore, the formation of social policies also involves an analysis of other different policies and how they came about, and most importantly, the impact that they have on society. As well as understanding the needs that are not being met, there are a number of different factors that influence the making of social policies. However, arguably the most important factors of; external pressures, individuals and the media and constraints will be focussed on.

External pressures including; war, scandals, significant governmental decisions, etc. have shown to be significant factors in the making of social policy. A very current example of this in action would be the plan to ‘merge six benefits into one payment’ (Buchanan, 2018) of universal credit that has been further delayed. ‘The system was supposed to be up and running by April 2017 but is now not expected to be fully operational until December 2023’ (Buchanan, 2018). Following the recent public decision to exit the European Union in 2016, many social policy implementations have not been placed in positions of priority. This therefore demonstrates how external pressures can work as a factor of influencing the making of social policy as they have the power to delay the implementation, or in some cases, completely stop them being implemented at all; regardless of the potential repercussions.

The way that a social problem is framed, and how much support it receives, is often dependent on how the media reports it. If a social problem is framed as a fault of an individual it has a significantly reduced chance of being resolved, than those that are framed as the fault of society not looking after their peers. In the past the issue of poverty was generally targeted as a fault of the individual, with the idea that people were taking advantage of the benefits scheme that the government was offering and that being ‘poor’ is the fault of the individual. Although this stigma can still be seen, it is not as common as it used to be; especially with research being made in the last decade that has shown that ‘for 2011-12 it is estimated that 0.8%, or £1.2bn, of total benefit expenditure was overpaid as a result of fraud. This is far lower than the figures widely believed by the public, as revealed repeatedly in opinion polls’ (Reporter, 2013). This evidence not only disproved the common thought that a large number of the public on benefits do not actually need them, but also proved that the majority of those who are on benefits depend on them. Additional evidence has also shown that the cause of poverty is down to a number of factors including; ‘low wages, insecure jobs and unemployment, lack of skills, ineffective benefit system, high costs including housing, and family problems’ (Foundation, 2016), instead of the conservative idea that it is purely down to the individual being lazy. This common view, of course, is not helped by the way in which the media publishes these sorts of issues. In 2008, The Mail Online published an article in which they wrote ‘David Cameron has unveiled a tough new stance by declaring people who are fat, poor or addicted to drugs could only have themselves to blame’ (Boden, 2008), and then proceeded to follow the line of thought throughout the article. The way that the media frames an issue ultimately affects how much support an issue will gain. This means that that if the media frames the social problem as at the fault of the individual then the issue is unlikely to gain a base for campaigning for human needs to be met as it is not deemed a collective issue. This then, in turn has significant influence over the making of social policy as it controls the way in which the public views the issue and therefore, in some cases, the success of a social policy being made.

It is quite often that not all ideas for change will become a policy, this is mainly due to the political and economic constraints which the success of the social policies relies on. An example of economic constraints in action was recent reform of legal aid. The role of legal aid is to ‘help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal’ (, 2018). When this programme was first introduced, it covered all aspects of law and court proceedings, however cuts introduced withdrew ‘£350m from the £2.2bn legal aid scheme by removing entire areas of law from public funding, including nearly all family advice’ (Robins, 2012). This means that it will now become very difficult for individuals, who struggle with funding, to get divorces if they are in difficult situations such as an abusive marriage or have too many children to look after and so are unable to afford the prices. Consequently, the impact of this social policy reform is very harsh on some recipients and demonstrates how some social policies cannot be very far fetching due to a lack of funding. Therefore, unfortunately sometimes some social problems cannot be viable on an economic or political basis, stunting any possibility for a social policy to be made as a solution.

To conclude, the concept of need is so important in social policy as it is the main basis of knowledge that is needed to understand the unmet needs causing the social problem. This understanding then leads to suitable social policies being implemented as a solution. However, the making of social policy is a very complicated process that involves taking many different factors into consideration. Although there are a number of different factors that should be considered, it is arguable that the factors of external pressure, the media and individuals, and economic and political constraints are the most influential factors in the making of social policy.



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