Social Policy and the pandemic
Social Policy impacts on our lives every day, whether that is through education, health, housing, social care, welfare provision or employment. Nonetheless Social Policy is a subject that is not commonly understood and attracts fewer students than, say, Sociology, writes Dr Jane Booth, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy.
However, with the current pandemic, will the profile of Social Policy as an academic discipline be raised in light of it being the primary response of the UK government to mitigate against the social, political and economic impact of COVID-19? Universal Credit has been extended and new welfare measures put into place to support people who are temporarily unable to work in this period of lockdown. Young people are missing out on their GCSE and A’ level exams.
Hospital capacity has had to be increased, and new (albeit temporary) hospitals built to respond to those badly affected by the virus. Public support of the NHS and the provision of free health care for all appears to be at an all-time high. This is in stark contrast to the period of austerity, introduced by the Coalition government in 2010, resulting in spending cuts that have affected nearly every aspect of Social Policy over the last 10 years.
These cuts were accompanied by debate about rights and entitlement, and a hardening of public attitudes towards people “living on welfare”. In light of the impact that coronavirus is having on the daily lives of all individuals, whatever their age, gender, ethnicity or class, will the belief that poverty is primarily due to poor choices, and being reliant on welfare benefits is a personal failure, start to shift? Will we see renewed support for a stronger welfare safety net and a softening of attitudes towards welfare recipients? Will this period bring about the end of austerity or will we see a new period of public spending cuts after the virus has run its course? Have we entered a more “caring” period with a greater sense of “community” – and how will this impact our welfare state in the future? Whatever the answers to these questions, this is a poignant time to study Social Policy!
Dr Jane Booth is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Wolverhampton.
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