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What is the relationship between social policy and public policy?


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The relationship between social policy and public policy is that social policy may be seen as the way societies "allocate resources" to implement government (local, state, federal) public policy as it is expressed through "legislation/laws, local ordinances, regulations, executive orders, court decisions, or decisions of administrators" ("Social and Public Policy," Government Publications Resources made available by San Jose State University).

The relationship between social policy and public policy is also that public policy may represent the formalization of social policy. Together, social and public policy address problems recognized in society.

Formalization into public policy of solutions for society's problems may originate at the social policy level or at the public policy level. Social policy (which includes actions based on laws, customs, or social ideas) may originate in society and filter upward to the public policy level, where it is incorporated into law, or social policy may originate with government and filter downward to be implemented at the social level.

An example of the relationship between social and public policy in which policy filtered upward into federal law is MADD—Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Begun in 1980 by California mother Candace Lightner, MADD was incorporated into federal law in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan when he made 21 years of age the national age for legalized drinking (upheld by the Supreme Court in 1987).

An example of the relationship between social and public policy in which policy filtered downward into society is the National Education Goals reform movement of 2000. Part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, President George W. Bush's reform movement required standards and standardized testing to be implemented across all sectors of American society in all mandatory education settings.

"Social and Public Policy," Government Publications Resources, San Jose State University, California.

"The 4 Factors That Impact Social Policy," Sol Price School of Public Policy. University of Southern California.

"Policy Matters," Center for the Study of Social Policy. University of Chicago.

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Public policy is a large umbrella that includes fiscal policy, monetary policy, international policy, and domestic policy, just to name a few areas in which government may act.  Social policy is one such area.  It is policy that is meant to address social problems, which sounds as though we could keep it in a neat little box.  It touches on so many areas of governance, though, that it may sometimes seem as though public policy is social policy.  Just to name a few areas in which this is true, education and housing are part of public policy generally, but they are also part of social policy.   Without good public education and housing security, there are many societal problems, poverty, homelessness, drugs, unemployment, and crime.  Public health is part of social policy and vice versa. Providing birth control for people is a public health issue, but it is also a solution to many social problems. Even national defense can provoke a need for social policy, to address the social problems of families of soldiers or to address the social problems when soldiers return and have a difficult time adapting to civilian life.  All of the areas of public policy that touch our societal arrangements could reasonably be said to be social policy. 

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What is social policy and how is it related to other public policy?

Public policy is usually divided first into foreign and domestic policy, where domestic policy involves your own country and foreign policy involves your relationship with other countries.

Then, domestic policy is subdivided into social policy and economic policy, where economic policy is about inflation, unemployment, taxes, and market regulation, while social policy is about everything else, including women's rights, racial equality, environmental regulations, and a variety of other issues.

Social policy is sort of a catchall term that deals with any issue of public policy that involves the general welfare of a society but doesn't have a clear connection with macroeconomics.

In practice these distinctions are often not clear-cut. Some would consider trade agreements to be economic policy, others to be an aspect of foreign policy. Social insurance and public healthcare systems (such as Social Security and Medicare) could be considered either economic or social policy. Often a policy intended to achieve some social goal has an economic impact, and economic policy often has social effects as well, especially in societies with high levels of inequality that are closely linked to categories such as race and gender.

Still, it can be a useful distinction. Social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are usually more closely tied to questions of morality and religious opinions, where the methods are not complicated (do you let people of the same sex get married or not?) but the disagreements are fundamental, involving different visions of what society should be like. Economic issues such as tax rates and inflation targets are often more complex and technocratic, where the goals (high economic growth, low unemployment) are largely agreed-upon, but the methods of getting there require advanced expertise to determine.

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