Functions of social policy

Social Policy cannot be analysed solely by looking at individual measures; rather these can only be understood by looking at the underlying role and function.

A first step is to recognise a fundamental shift during the evolution of social policy. The origin of social policy in the “modern” sense is to be seen in the so-called social question, arising as a result of the industrial revolution. Society, then, had been more than ever characterised by a fundamental split between classes. Even if societies before had by no means been societies of equals they had means of dealing with the inequalities, i.e.


the early clientelism,


the carried religiously motivated doing good (and punishment and strict exclusion),


the mutual help of the guilds.

Capitalism, now, lacked any of such support systems or even motivations for any social support systems and was thus extremely vulnerable. Nevertheless, the lack of such a motivation is true only on the individual level. As capitalist society this systems clearly showed a need and it was this, what the capitalist state had to deliver – a political system, bridging the ever-widening gap between the classes. Seemingly neutral, the aim was to maintain the hierarchy and exploitation of one class by the other.

In particular five functions of social policy can be seen against this background.

I.    Protective function

Protection against negative consequences arising from working life; including intervention into the economic system

Protection of the employee to maintain the ability to work

2.    Function of distribution

Determination of income as means or reproduction

3.    Function of productivity

Securing the ability to work and securing against abuse of the workforce (including health, education etc.).

Including as well the provision of societal and social stability (industrial peace)

In this context as well the provision of military forces.

4.    Function of societal politics

social policy – having a socio-political function or being social politics

5.    Function of re-distribution

interpersonal re-distribution

inter-temporal re-distribution