Social policy and the family

  • Created by: rdowd40
  • Created on: 01-06-19 14:33

Social policy and the family

Social policies are the measures taken by state bodies such as schools and welfare agencies. They are usually based on laws introduced by government.

Laws and policies can have both direct and indirect effects on the family:

  • Direct effects Some policies are aimed specifically at family life - e.g. laws on marriage, divorce, child protection, contraception and abortion. 
  • Indirect effects Policies on other social or economic issues also affect the family - e.g. compulsory schooling provides childcare for working parents but also keeps children dependent financially for longer. 

Perspectives on policy and the family:

Different perspectives have different views on the relationship between social policy and the family...

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Functionalists see society as based on a value consensus. The state acts in the interests of the whole of society and its policies benefit everyone. Policies help the family to perform its functions - socialising children, caring for the welfare of its members etc. 

  • There is a 'march of progress' - policies are gradually improving family life; e.g. the welfare state enables families to look after their members better, through access to the NHS etc.

Functionalism assumes policies benefit everyone, but feminists argue they only benefit men. It also assumes policies make family life better, but they can also make it worse, e.g. cutting benefits to poor families.

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The New Right

The New Right is a conservative political perspective that opposes state intervention in family life. It has had a major influence on social policy.

  • It sees the traditional nuclear family as 'natural' and based on a biological division of labour between male breadwinner and female nurturer.
  • If parents perform these roles properly, the family will be self-reliant, able to socialise children effectively and to care for its members.
  • It opposes family diversity and sees lone parent and same sex families as damaging to children

Feminists criticise New Right views as an attempt to justify the patriachal nuclear family that oppresses women. They argue that the nuclear family is not 'natural' but socially constructed. 

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The New Right

The problem The New Right criticise many welfare policies for undermining the family' self reliance by providing generous benefits, e.g. to lone parent families.

  • This results in a 'dependency culture' where individuals depend on the state to support their families.
  • Murray sees benefits as 'perverse incentives' rewarding irresponsible behaviour - e.g. if the state provides benefits to lone mothers, some fathers will abandon their families.

The solution The New Right favour cutting welfare spending, especially universal benefits. This will give fathers more incentive to provide for their families. Unlike functionalists, who see policies benefitting the family, the New Right believe that the less families depend on the state, the better. 

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The New Right

The New Right's influence on policies:

Conservative governments banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, and set up the Child Support agency to enforce the maintenance payments by absent parents. These policies reflect the New Right view.

However, the Conservatives are divided between modernisers who recognise family diversity in their policies and traditionalists who favour a New Right view and reject diversity. As a result, there have been splits, e.g. over gay marriage. During the Coalition government with the Liberal democrats (2010-2015), the influence of traditionalists was weakened.

New Labour governments (1997-2010) Like the New Right, New Labour saw a married, heterosexual couple as the best environment for bringing up children. 

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The New Right

However, there are differences between the two:

  • New Labour rejected the New Right view that the family should have just one (male) earner. They favoured the dual-earner neo-conventional family with policies that made it easier for both parents to work.
  • Unlike the New Right, New Labour argued that state intervention can improve life for families, e.g. through welfare, taxation and minimum wage policies to lift children out of poverty by re-distributing income. 
  • New Labour introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples - a policy opposed by the New Right. 
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Feminism is a conflict perspective. It sees society as based on a conflict of interests between men and women. Society is patriarchal - male-dominated.

  • Social policies often shape or define family life in ways that benefit men and maintain patriarchy, disadvantaging women and maintaining their subordination.
  • Land argues that policies often assume the patriachal family to be the norm. As a result, policies act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually helping to reproduce this family type. For example, maternity leave is much longer than paternity leave, reinforcing women's responsibility for childcare.
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Gender regimes

Drew's concept of familistic and individualistic 'gender regimes' describes how social policies in different countries can either encourage or discourage gender equality in the family. 

  • familistic gender regimes assume a traditional gender division between male breadwinner and female housewife/carer. For example, In Greece there is little state welfare and women have to rely on support from extended kin. 
  • individualistic gender regimes treat husbands and wives the same. In Sweden, equal opportunities policies, parental leave and good welfare services mean women are independent and have more opportunities to work. 
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Gender regimes

State versus market:

Most European Union countries are now moving towards individualistic gender regimes. However, there is no inevitable 'march of progress' towards gender equality.

Since the global recession began in 2008, cutbacks in government spending throughout Europe have led to pressure on women to take more responsibility for caring for family members.

There has also been a trend towards neoliberal welfare policies, in which individuals are encouraged to use the market rather than the state to meet their needs, for example through private care of the elderly.  

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