Social policy means government policy on a range of social issues (education, family, poverty etc). The question is: have sociologists a contribution to make?
The founding fathers
Comte saw sociology as a practical subject that shouldn't remain in universities, it should be applied to wider society. He believed in order and progress - he saw sociology providing the ideas to reinforce social order and direct social progress. The purpose is 'to know, in order to predict, in order to control'.
Durkheim also focused on the question of order in society. He was concerned with the political upheaval and civil unrest which he believed resulted from industrialisation and breakdown of value concensus. He saw sociology as providing ways of restoring order and strengthening the integration of society.
Durkheim believed sociology pointed to a need for people to be bound together by obligation and a sense of duty to the community as a whole.
Marx looked forward to the overthrow of governments and their replacement with communist societies. He hoped his work would inspire and direct working-class movements in capitalist societies. However, it was only after his death that his ideas shaped history. E.g. Lenin's interpretation of Marx's ideas.
Todays sociologists are a lot less ambitious than before. Many feel sociology can contribute to social policy. However, they see the contribution as limited to certain areas such as family policy or education. They're unlikely to see it as changing society as a whole like Durkheim and Marx.
Shaping social policy
This looks at the factors that shape social policy. This comes from Donnison, a leading expert on poverty.
Societies change, so to some extent social policy is shaped by changes in society. E.g: the aftermath of a war; after WW1 Lloyd George promised the troops 'homes fir for heroes'.
It's also shaped by growth in knowledge. E.g: during the 19th century people thought poverty was due to a character defect in those that were poor. Rowntree conducted a study however, and found that you cannot blame individuals, it's just sometimes the breadwinner wages were too low. Due to this study, the 1908 Old Age Pensions Act provided pensions for those over 70.
Changing political agendas
Different political parties have different political agendas which shape their social policies. E.g. the Labour Party are supporters of social welfare policies.
It's safe to say that governments listen to sociologists when it suits them and when findings fit their politics. E.g. Margaret Thatcher had no time for sociology, however she was influenced by New Right thinkers.
New Right blamed the welfare state for creating a dependancy culture meaning they lose the will to work and are reliant on the state. Thatcher attempted to end the 'culture of dependancy' by reducing benefits and introducing Job Seekers' Allowance.
Donnison claims that shifts in policy come about when new questions are asked, not when…