As pointed out in the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, precisely what counts as social policy is a matter of debate. Both words are problematic in that they have more than one meaning and are therefore open to interpretation. However, the phrase Social Policy generally has two possible meanings. It can be used to refer to the academic subject social policy or it means social policies themselves (Baldock, Manning and Vickerstaff 2003: p.4). .
The study of Social Policy is one of the academic social sciences (Alcock, Erskine and May 2003). There are many themes and topics that are focused on when taking a degree in Social Policy, although there is a wide selection of them. These might include Education policy, Health and Healthcare policies, Crime and Criminal justice policies and Housing policies. But this list is by no means exhaustive; there are also many aspects of Sociology (the study of society) that are included in a Social Policy degree. Students of Social Policy are expected to engage in debates such as Is the distribution of wealth and income just? and what level of support should be provided to lone parents?.
For example, the Social Policy honours degree course at the University Of Nottingham enables students to study the historical development and contemporary practice both in Britain and abroad. It focuses on social problems such as poverty, homelessness and unemployment and on the operation of publicly provided welfare services (social security, health, education, housing etc). Students are also encouraged to explore the underlying reasons for the growth and decline of welfare state regimes in Britain and other countries in far more depth than they were in the past. .
Although Social Policy is now a theoretical tradition in its own right, it also draws on insights from disciplines such as philosophy, law, history, political science and economics. Accordingly, students are exposed to a wide range of ideas and viewpoints which enables them to develop a comprehensive understanding of welfare issues.