An introduction to Social Policy

Paul Spicker

Social Policy: Theory and Practice - 3rd edition

About the website

This set of web pages offers a brief outline of key topics and issues in Social Policy. The material is of the kind which would be tackled in a university course in the subject.

This file was last updated on May 17, 2015

Who the pages are for

This website is one of the most widely used sites in the field of social policy internationally. When I started it up, I had originally intended the pages to be for people who are beginning studies in social policy, and those who are thinking about it. Many more people than the original target audience have found the site helpful, and I have received notes from teachers and students across the world. Beyond that, I think it's true to say that the site has done a great deal to shape people's understanding of what Social Policy is about. My textbook explains, in greater detail, the architecture of the subject; but when I talk to people from different countries about Social Policy as an academic discipline, it's often the website that they're thinking of.

As the range of content, reading and references has increased, the scope of the site has broadened. I have been slowly expanding the references to university-level reading from open access sources. I have added an on-line reading list linked to the subjects covered in Social Policy: Theory and Practice. The level of detail is necessarily less than a textbook would include, however, and students should be complementing what they read here with a range of other sources.

How many people use the site?

The site first came on line in May 2000. It was based at the University of Dundee, and was transferred to the Robert Gordon University in September 2001. There have been some interruptions in the collection of statistics, but its first million page views were recorded in the four years to May 2004. There had been six million page views by the end of February 2013, and we are now well on the way towards seven million.

The graph shows figures for the last seven days. Google Analytics tells me that there were 340,000 page views between 1st April 2014 and 30th March 2015, somewhat down on previous years; it averages to 930 a day. The most popular page is the one on comparative social policy, accounting for over 10% of views and taking readers 4 minutes on average.

Internet domains often disguise the country of origin, but most identified users are from the UK or US. Of the remainder, the principal users are in Canada, Australia, the European Union, South Africa, India and China. In the last year there were at least 365 sessions (or one a day on average) from 41 countries. The pie chart shows summary figures for the last seven days - it can be rotated to view labels more clearly. In the course of a year, there are visitors from nearly all the countries in the world. No-one used the site last year in Western Sahara or the Central African Republic; that is easier than listing all the places where people did use it.

Intellectual property

The author of these pages is Paul Spicker. The site is intended as an educational resource, and the pages are meant to be freely accessible, but the author retains copyright. No material in whole or in part from these pages may be modified, copied, reproduced, re-published, uploaded, posted, or distributed in any way. Subject to that, you are granted limited personal non-exclusive use of the materials within these pages, provided appropriate recognition of the origin of the materials is made.

Teachers are granted permission to make paper copies of text for use by their students, provided that (a) no charge is made to students for the material, (b) the material is taken from the page currently on display and that (c) the source of the material is clearly acknowledged, with precise attribution of the beginning and ending of all quoted material and full attribution of any summarised or paraphrased material. Teachers who wish to use material from the site for their students on their own websites are asked to link to the material on this site rather than copying text from it on their own web. Please do not copy material from this site onto other sites with public access. That leads to internet searches sending people to old or outdated files which I cannot correct.

Please consult with the author about other uses.

I have had to put up this copyright message because of abuse. Some "cheat sites" have duplicated text from this website and are offering it for sale. It is unlikely that anyone who has found their way to this website would consider paying anyone for the material they can get here for free. Neither the author nor The Robert Gordon University has any connection with these sites, and they have not endorsed or granted permission for any of the work contained on these pages to appear on such sites. Submission of information contained within these pages to such sites will be treated as an infringement of copyright.

References: citing these pages

People who want to refer to the pages should cite them in the usual way. Common conventions for internet citations have not been established, but an appropriate reference might be something like this:

P Spicker, 2015, An introduction to social policy, Aberdeen, Scotland: The Robert Gordon University, obtained at [give date of access].

I have added the date of the file near the heading of each page, so that you can if you want cite the date of the entry.

Students who are using this site have to be aware that it is not acceptable to duplicate the material including the references, because that would give the impression that you had read, selected and ordered the material yourself. This is a form of plagiarism, which means more than "copying".
Plagiarism is passing off other people's work as one's own. This happens

Further guidance on writing essays, which was included in a previous edition of my book Social Policy, is on the site here.

Graphics and copyright

Many relevant graphics are unavailable because of copyright restrictions. Copyright resides in the person who makes the image, not the person represented. This means, for example, that a public domain image is available of Winston Churchill, who died in 1965, but not of John Maynard Keynes, who died in 1946. The rights to use different images are consequently complex. Copyright acknowledgements are given next to the images; images that are out of copyright are generally noted as such in the ALT text, which is visible when the mouse pointer hovers over the picture.

Technical details

The format of the site has been revised more than once, mainly to meet the demands of different browsers and the search engines. The site was prepared with Dreamweaver, but as time has gone on more and more has been done by direct editing. In earlier versions, there were some Java-based functions, including tree-based menus. These took too long to load and run, and they have been stripped out. It's now possible to do something similar in HTML5, but too many browsers treat the instructions haphazardly; the simpler cross-referencing of menus I'm using now is more consistent, and it's fast. However, I have used widgets from others, including graphs from Google Public Data Explorer and the Trace Union Congress.

The Internet is an international medium, and although there are several examples given from the UK the material has mainly been selected because of its international interest. The sections have been kept brief, so that they can comfortably be read on a computer screen, and the files are small and mainly text-based to allow rapid access. The main reason for putting several screens together in each file is speed: material can continue to load while people are reading.

The needs of users have been central to the design. A series of marginal changes in the appearance of the site conceal some fairly drastic editing of the source code. Some elements of the layout have been compromised in order to meet accessibility standards, which have also led to a significant reduction in file sizes; the increase in speed should be noticeable. There are minor differences in appearance between browsers, but the style in each should be clear and consistent. The site has been checked in versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, Chrome, Opera, Amaya and Telnet (for text-only browsers).

Mobile users

Things have got more complicated with the rise of tablets and mobile phone browsers. I used to use a frame-set for navigation - it created an menu bar on the left hand side of the screen. More and more people are viewing the site on tablets and mobile phones, and the previous layout wasn't working well enough for them, so the site has undergone a major revamp. Big alterations are a risky business - if it turns out that anything doesn't work, please let me know and I will take steps to correct it.

I have tested the system for mobile based browsers in Android and Java. It's been a challenge making the site accessible for mobile users. The files are all small, and they should load rapidly - the largest file, on Social Security, is 35Kb - but any text beyond a couple of paragraphs can seem lengthy on a little screen. The biggest challenge has been to get the graphics and tables to display well. Please warn me if anything isn't as it should be.


Accessibility for people with disabilities were initially checked with Bobby, an accessibility programme that is no longer available; it was compatible with their AAA rating. Paul Brown made further checks when the site went on line. Given the range of different users, though, it is difficult to be confident that there are no hidden traps; please report any you find.

Comments and problems

I hope that users will have not had problems. If you do, please let me know at Although external links are checked regularly, it's sometimes difficult to spot problems, especially when webmasters redirect enquiries to a different place from the link I intended. Some useful links may be off-line for extended periods. Rather than delete the link immediately, it seems better to wait a little to see if the link can be recovered or replaced. Please let me know when links are not functioning.

Updating and review

The main aim of revision at this stage is to make the site as useful as possible to people studying and working in the field. In March and April 2015 I revised the presentation fairly extensively to make the material more accessible to mobile phone and tablet users.

The coverage is being gradually expanded and refined. The biggest change in 2014 was the addition of an extensive on-line reading list, linked to the agenda of my textbook on Social Policy. In 2015 I have been adding material as I go, referring for example to Conditional Cash Transfers and Basic Health Packages. I have added a dateline on most pages so that people can see when the most recent revision has been made.

I use my blog on social policy to chart the fine grain of policy; it has allowed me, for example, to chart the progress of social security in the UK in a way I could not have done within the constraints of the main website. The blog has more than 500 entries to date. The blog entries are also mirrored on Twitter (which is shown in the feed below this text) and on RSS. You can also follow the blog by receiving emails or on Wordpress.

My blog has an Open Access page where readers will find four of my books for free, and more than 60 of my published papers.


Any other comments would be appreciated. Please send suggestions or queries to