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Unit information: Social Policy and the Welfare State: Theoretical Perspectives in 2013/14

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Unit name Social Policy and the Welfare State: Theoretical Perspectives
Unit code SPOL10012
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Pemberton
Open unit status Open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


To unit aims to introduce students to the major theories that have impacted upon social policy and welfare provision in the last fifty years. The unit will focus upon British social policy and where appropriate draw upon comparative illustrations. The unit introduces students to a number of phases in recent histrory that mark discrete ideological and theoretical stages: the 'golden age', the demise of the post war consensus, Thatcherism, the Third Way and so on. The unit will also introduce a number of critical perspectives, such as marxist, feminist, anti racist, and post-modern, that have sought to challenge these dominant modes of thought.


The unit provides an introduction to the major theories which have shaped British social policy and the welfare state since 1945. The unit will highlight the socio-economic, political and historical contexts of these theories to highlight their relevance and impact upon the policy making process to the student. Moreover, the unit will introduce the student to a number of critical theoretical perspectives which have sought to challenge these dominant modes of thought.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will:

  • be familiar with the key theories in British social policy since 1945
  • demonstrate an appreciation of the contexts in which different theories have gained popularity.
  • understand the key critiques of mainstream theories of social policy and the welfare state

Teaching details

Lectures and seminars

Assessment Details

Assessment will be against the programme criteria defined for the appropriate level.

Formative assessment: One essay up to 2500 words

Summative assessment : 3 hour unseen exam

Reading and References

  • Alcock, P, Erskine, A and May, M (2003) (2nd Edn.) The Student's Companion to Social Policy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford
  • Alcock, P. (2003) Social policy in Britain: themes and issues, Basingstoke: Palgrave
  • Fitzpatrick, T. (2001) Welfare theory: an introduction, London: Palgrave
  • Lavalette, M. and Pratt, A. (2001) Social policy: a conceptual and theoretical introduction, London: Sage.
  • Pierson, C. and Castles, F. (2000) The Welfare State reader, Cambridge: Polity Press –