Studying a social or public policy course will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to help tackle global social issues such as health, poverty, education and crime

What is social policy?

Social policy is a broad subject concerned with global societies and how national governments meet the basic human needs of their citizens spanning the course of their lifetime, all the way from birth through to old age.

At its core, 'social policy is the way in which we understand how to make people’s lives better,' says Dr Dave Beck, lecturer of social policy at the University of Salford. 'Understanding social policy helps us to understand how governments address social problems. These social problems can include poverty, housing, health, education, and (un)employment. It is the government's responsibility to solve these issues, and social policies are how they do that.'

When you study the subject, you'll be analysing the role that governments play in the provision of social services, considering the legislation, principles and guidelines in place.

You'll also be looking to highlight inequalities and propose solutions to ensure that all social groups - defined by age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and socio-economic status - have full access to the support and services available.

Social policy is closely linked with public policy. The difference between the two is that while social policy focuses on the decisions made by the government to address issues of social need, public policy analyses any decisions made by the state. There can be quite a bit of overlap between the two, and you'll find it's the same when it comes to university courses.

Do I need a social policy degree?

That really depends on the career you're aiming for.

'The study of social policy is important as it allows people to think critically about big decisions such as, how can I help to make the lives of vulnerable people better. Who really represents my views on political issues? And, what we can do about them?' says Dr Beck.

'Social policies affect every corner of our lives, from which school we attend, how much money we earn and where we live. As such, social policy has its roots in the humanities,' explains Dr Beck. 'We take a lot of influence from sociology, criminology, history, politics and human geography, and you'll find people who work in social policy roles may have degrees in these subjects.'

There are several social policy courses at undergraduate level, with the opportunity to go down either the Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) routes.

Irrespective of the type of degree you choose, many social policy programmes include the chance to undertake a work placement and help you develop the research skills required for a successful career in the UK's public services sector.

For instance, the BA in Social Policy at the University of Birmingham equips you with the theoretical knowledge and research ability to make sense of and address crucial social issues in the UK and beyond. From prison overcrowding and homelessness to problem debts and an ageing population, you'll get to investigate possible solutions and challenge the status quo.

In the second year, you'll get to choose from a range of optional modules including:

  • Education, Policy & Social Justice
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Media and Society
  • Poverty, Class and Inequality
  • 'Sociology of Race' and Ethnicity - A Global Perspective
  • Terror, Threat and Security.

By the time you reach your third year, you'll be ready to undertake your own research project on a subject you feel passionate about.

Another option is the BSc in Social Policy from the University of Salford. This research-informed programme focuses on social change. It offers an optional community placement where you'll get to put what you've learned into practice by working for a partner organisation, such as a local government or a private social care provider.

Finally, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has a department dedicated to the study of social policy. Its BSc International Social and Public Policy can be studied on its own or as part of a multidisciplinary approach in combination with politics or economics. With an international approach to the subject, you'll analyse real world issues such as poverty, disadvantage, international development, welfare and work.

Other BA and BSc Social Policy university options include:

All these social policy degrees are usually studied for three years on a full-time basis, with some allowing the course to be studied across six years part time. The fees for 2023/24 and 2024/25 are set at £9,250 for students studying in England.

Can I do a Masters in public policy (MPP)?

There are plenty of options at Masters level. Many of the universities running undergraduate degree programmes - for instance, the University of Birmingham and the University of York - also run Masters courses.

Social policy Masters degrees typically combine taught coursework along with supervised independent study. You'll get to develop your research skills and focus on an area of interest.

For example, the MA in Social Policy at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is a modular course. You’ll study compulsory modules such as:

  • Understanding Poverty and Social Inequality: Perspectives from History
  • Comparative Social Policy and Social Change
  • Social Theory and Social Policy: Rethinking Welfare
  • The Making of Social Policy
  • Themes and Perspective in Social Research
  • Dissertation.

You'll need at least a 2:2 in social policy or a related discipline for entry. In 2023/24 fees for full-time UK students are £8,400.

The University of Leeds offers an MA in Social and Public Policy, bringing the two strands together. You'll need a 2:1 in a social science or related subject for entry onto the year-long course. You'll get to choose from a range of optional modules but core units include:

  • Social Policy Analysis
  • Social Policy Debates
  • Public Administration: Policy, Planning and Development in a Globalised World
  • Research and Strategy Design
  • Dissertation.

Tuition fees for UK students in 2024/25 stand at £11,750.

At the University of Oxford, you can study for a Masters of Public Policy (MPP). On this intensive one year course you'll study compulsory modules such as:

  • Economics
  • Evidence and Public Policy
  • Foundations (Philosophy and Public Policy)
  • Law and Public Policy
  • Policy Challenge I
  • Policy Challenge II
  • The Politics of Policymaking.

You'll need a first or a strong 2:1 in any discipline for entry. Fees in 2024/25 for the UK are £49,990.

Other Masters in social and/or public policy are available at:

If you've decided that you'd like to go down this postgraduate route, search for social policy courses.

You can also explore your options when it comes to funding postgraduate study.

Are public policy internships available?

Many undergraduate and some Masters degree programmes include a work placement where you'll gain crucial work experience by working on real-life situations. However, if your course doesn't include a formal placement, you can still secure a public policy internship with a relevant organisation for the summer months or once you graduate.

For example:

  • The Institute for Government (IfG) runs 12-month paid graduate internships for those looking to start a career in policy research.
  • Principle, a social enterprise that works with charities to campaign for change and influence policy, offers an eight week internship where you will be paid the London Living Wage (£11.95 an hour).
  • The Centre for Policy Studies welcomes internship applications from students and recent graduates on a rolling basis. Internships ideally last 4-12 weeks and you'll be paid in accordance with the National Minimum Wage rates.

Learn more about work experience and internships.

What social policy jobs can I do?

Once you've achieved relevant qualifications, there are a number of career paths to choose from.

The two most common roles are policy officer and social researcher, but other popular social policy jobs include:

'Holding a degree in social policy confirms to an employer that you are a critical thinker, one who is comfortable in making key decisions that can shape the lives of those you are working to help,' says Dr Beck. 'As such, many of our graduates work in areas such as homelessness prevention, housing, policy making, the charitable sector and local and national government. But our degree is diverse, and graduates could find themselves working in the business, education and environment sectors, as well as, social and public services. All organisations have policies, and it could be your job to help manage them.'

If you'd like to discover what others have done after graduation, see what can I do with my degree in social policy?

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page