The Role of Sociology in Social Policy


Social policies govern many areas of life including education and health and aim to address social problems such as racism and youth crime. Mills suggested that Sociology should aim to explain social problems and provide policy suggestions.

Giddens identified the ways in which Sociology relates to social policy:

  • it can inform policymakers of views other than their own.
  • it helps assess the results of policy initiatives.
  • it helps to generate greater self-understanding which can lead to the questioning of government policies as well as the creation of protest groups (for example, Amnesty International).
  • when sociologists research, it can reveal the unintended consequences of social policy

The government often funds sociologists to research using the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), for example, it funded research by Middleton into pilot schemes to test which policies could be introduced to post-16 education to encourage participation. Initial research indicated that the pilot scheme for educational maintainance allowance (EMAs) increased participation rates by 6%. This reseach suggested that by paying the young people money rather than their parents, encouraged more young people to access further education and thus it was set up as government policy in 2004. The key findings from tracking young people for several years were that the estimated national impact of EMAs was a 3.8% increase in participation although the research didn't find any improvement in post-16 attainment. One unintended consequence was a greater impact on females than on males their was a greater increase in female participation than male.

Sociological research often takes place in settings such as politically aligned institutions, think tanks and universities. In 2007, the DIUS gave £181 million to the ESRC as the ESRC has several aims in its reseach and covers several sectors:

  •  globalisation
  • climate change
  • demographic change
  • religion
  • identity
  • determinants of human wellbeing
  • answering questions relevent to public policy
  • developing understanding of the problems society faces
  • funding more speculative projects in theory

For example, research by Gregg at the Centre of Social Exclusion


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