Sociology: Social Policy (1.7)

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Families and Social policy

  • Social policy are actions by state agencies like health, welfare , education etc.
  • Policies are laws by Gov to help agencies work, e.g. who can get benefits.
  • Some social policies aimed at families are laws on marriage, divorce, abortion etc.
  • Some policies aren't aimed at families but effect them like, compulsary education, care in community and tax.


  • Policies of Gov effect families.
  • Cross-cultural/ historical differences in places can show relationship between Social policy and family.
  • E.g. China's 1 child policy = Gov controls population, discourages having 2nd child, if they comply they get free child healthcare, extra benefits and education. If they have another child, they pay a fine. 
  • E.g. Communist Romania wanted to push the birth rate up, banning abortion/contraception, set up infertility treatments and hardened divorce/ lowered marriage age.
  • E.g. Nazi Germany wanted to breed a racially pure race and banned abortion, wanted women to stay out of the workforce and in KKK, they sterilised disabled people.
  • Democratic societies like Britain see the family as a private sphere.
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Functionalist view of family and Social policy:

  • Family is harmony and consensus.
  • Free from major conflict.
  • State helps society and policies benefit all.
  • Policies help family fulfill functions.
  • Fletcher says intro of health, education and housing policies since the industrial revolution made a welfare state to help families fulfill functions.
  • Intro of NHS with doctors, nurses and medicine mean the family can care for sick members.
  • But Functionalists think all members benefit equally, but feminists say it helps patriarchy.
  • Say there's a MofP but Marxists say they can go back and cut benefits on poor families, so no progress.
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Donzelot: Policing of the family:

  • Sees policy as state power on families, holds conflict view of society.
  • Uses concept of surveillance (monitoring) and sees power as spread through society/relationships.
  • E.g. Doctors use expert knowledge to use their power over clients.
  • Donzelot puts this to family lives, families are surveillanced/ being policed by social workers, health visitors and doctors.
  • But surveillance is different for all social classes, e.g. Poor seen as problem/ anti social behaviour and need to be improved.
  • E.g. State may control families via compulsary parenting orders in courts. Parents of badly behaved children may need classes to learn correct upbringing.
  • Proffesional knowledge is important for power/control.
  • Reject Functionalist MofP view, they don't benefit, but control families.
  • But Marxists and Feminists argue that he doesn't say who really benefits in society.
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New Right view of family and Social policy:

  • Like traditional nuclear family with marriage and division of labour.
  • Family is self-reliant and able to provide for members.
  • Diversity, more divorce, cohab, same sex partnerships have led to social problems/welfare dependency.
  • State's against nuclear family.
  • Laws on easy divorce devalue idea of  commitment.
  • Intro of civil partnership in 2014 means heteroesex couples are no longer superior.
  • Tax laws mean that nuclear families pay more tax than dual earning couples.
  • State now has more rights for unmarried like adoption.


  • Chalres Murray says benefits create irresponsible/anti social behaviour.
  • If father sees state will maintain their children, they may scrap reponsiblity to their families,
  • Council housing to unmarried teens encourages pregnancy.
  • Lone parent benefits mean young boys lack a male role model and turn to crime.
  • Say current policies effect socialisation of the young and work ethic in men.
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New Right solution to Social Policy

  • Cuts on welfare and tighter entries for benefits.
  • Cutting welfare would reduce taxes = encourages work.
  • Denying council housing to unmarried teen moms would discourage young pregancies.
  • Would support nuclear family with taxes favouring marriage rather cohab.
  • Overall less state interference = better family lives.
  • But Critics like feminists say they justify patriarchy.
  • They say patrarchal family is natural not constructed.
  • Pam Abott and Wallace say cutting benefits would make poor even poorer.
  • New right ignore benefitial policies to nuclear family
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Feminism view of family and Social policy:

  • Have a conflict view and State policies are patriarchal
  • Policies are based on what a normal family looks like and help certain type of family.
  • E.g. Tax incentive and benefits to married couples and not cohabiting may encourage marriage.
  • Self fulfilling prophecy is made making it hard to in other family types than the one the policy maker think they live in.
  • Social polices assume ideal family is nuclear because it's a cereal packet norm, shown in adverts.
  • That image affects how family is governed.
  • E.g. Tax and benifits assume husband is main wage earner and women is dependent. Makes it hard for wife to get social secuirity benefits. This reinforced dependency upon husbands.
  • Court cases give women custody as they're seen as natural carers.
  • Even when some policies try helping them, they reinforce patriarchy, e.g. Maternity leave entitlement is easier than paternity leave so women are seen as responsible for infants.
  • Child benefits are given to the mother, again, seen as responsible.
  • But have been criticised for ignoring sex descrimination laws, benefits and refuges for Domestic violence victims.
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Feminism view of family and Social policy:


  • Describes how social policies in different countries determine whether women work.
  • 2 types of of family policies familistic and individualistic gender regimes.


  • Policies that assume husband works, wife stays home.
  • E.g. Greece has low state welfare/childcare and division in labour is traditional.


  • Policies that think husband and wife should be equal, partner has seperate entitlement to state benefits.
  • E.g. Swedan both genders are equal in policy and tasks, women are less dependent.
  • Most EU countries are moving away from familistic gender regimes and nuclear family.
  • But publcially funded childcare isn't cheap and there is conflict if there is MofP.
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Marxist view of family and Social policy:

  • Society is based on class conflict.
  • Capitalists own production like factories but Working class owns nothing.
  • Workers must sell their labour for wages
  • Capitalists usually pay them less than the product produced.
  • Institutions like education, media maintain class inequaltiy.
  • Family reproduces next labour force.
  • State policies serve capitalism, e.g, low level state pensions means that once too old workers wages are low as possible.
  • Only improvements were pensions and healthcare but it only came via class conflict.
  • Some policies came to help capitalists, e.g. WW2, women were a reserve army for work and Gov set up nurseries for working mothers. Once war ended, women lost their jobs and nurseries were closed.
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