Want to find out more about the MSc International Social Change and Policy?
Watch our webinar with Dr Harriet Churchill (Course Leader), Dr Lucy Mayblin (Admissions Tutor) and current MSc International Social Change and Policy student Myra Mufti to hear more about the course, entry requirements and what it's like to be a postgraduate student in the Department.
We live in an era of unprecedented rapid social change, which reaches all parts of the globe. Understanding the processes driving these changes, the challenges that they pose and the policy responses needed are fundamental to the work of social policy analysts internationally, including in Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe.
The International Social Change and Policy MSc is an innovative and exciting programme that will develop your awareness of the most pressing challenges posed by social change, enable you to critically examine dominant policy responses to key aspects of social change at national, cross-national comparative and global levels, and make you aware of agendas on policy alternatives and futures.
The course is taught by a team of internationally-recognised academics with specialism in ageing, migration, labour markets, inequalities, family life and comparative and international research methods, and whose research has demonstrable impact beyond academia. The course team is composed of social policy, sociology and social work academics, leading to deeper understanding of the causes of, and solutions to, global and international social problems.
Throughout the course, there is a strong emphasis on developing the practical skills required by social policy analysts working internationally. The Dissertation with Internship option will also give you the opportunity to apply those skills in a real-world policy environment.
Aims and outcomes
The International Social Change and Policy MSc aims to provide students with an up-to-date and critical understanding of the epistemologies, theories and processes through which we might better understand contemporary social change from an international perspective.
Not only will the course develop your awareness of the most pressing challenges posed by social change, and how the scale and patterning of those challenges varies internationally, but it will enable you to critically examine the dominant policy responses to key aspects of social change at national, cross-national comparative and global levels, making you aware of agendas on policy alternatives and futures.
The course provides comprehensive training in research methods, with an emphasis in approaches relevant to research and policy analysis from an international and comparative perspective.
You will be equipped with the skills required to undertake independent social scientific research with international policy relevance at an advanced level. Furthermore, you will develop transferable skills and knowledge that will be of benefit whether you eventually work in international or national social policy analysis or some other related field.
Is this course for me?
This course is an excellent choice for students who want to think systematically from an international perspective about the key social challenges of the 21st Century, and develop the knowledge and skills to critically analyse policy responses at the national, cross-national comparative and global levels.
For professionals already working on social policy in government, international organisations and development agencies, global advocacy agencies and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), this course provides an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the subject area.
Teaching is conducted through a combination of lectures, seminars, laboratory classes, small-group work and problem-solving.
Assessment can vary across modules between a combination of essays, oral presentations, policy reviews, posters and portfolio work. You are assessed in a variety of ways in order to test a range of knowledge, skills and capabilities. There is also a dissertation, which provides the opportunity to focus in-depth on a topic of individual choice. You can choose to do a standard dissertation or a dissertation linked to an internship. One-to-one supervision is provided for students when undertaking their dissertations, during which the intellectual and methodological issues of the dissertation are discussed, and you can get help and support in planning your work.
Each module is assigned a credit value: 180 credits are required for graduation. 90 of these are core modules, 30 are optional and finally 60 credits are allocated to one of two dissertation options.
Students who take this programme part-time will have a period of two years to complete. The part-time route is structured in the following way: students will take 90 credits in the first year and the remaining 90 credits in the second year. The dissertation, which is worth 60 credits, must be taken in the second year.
Innovations in Qualitative Research
This module covers a variety of advanced and innovative qualitative research techniques common to sociology and the social sciences more widely. You will be introduced to qualitative methodology, and cover a range of innovative research techniques including creative interviewing, sensory ethnography, mobile methods, longitudinal research, memory work, re-using qualitative data and participatory approaches such as the use of diaries and drawings. The module will also introduce you to analytical techniques, innovative approaches to writing and communicating with qualitative data and ethical issues arising from creative and innovative approaches to qualitative research.
International Social Change and Social Problems
In this module, you will focus on the processes, dynamics and consequences of contemporary social change from an international perspective. Key patterns of international social change are explored and analysed with reference to the main theories and at different spatial scales from the global to the local. Arguments will be applied through a number of cases studies, including: (international) migration, labour market change, economic competitiveness, population ageing and family change.
International Social Change: Analysing Policy Responses
This module examines policy responses at national, international and global levels to significant contemporary social changes occurring across the globe, including population ageing, migration, globalisation and new labour market risks and family change. It introduces the theoretical frameworks utilised in the analysis of social policy in global, international and comparative contexts, and the architecture of international and global social policy governance, so that you can understand the nature of social policy responses and their outcomes, as well as reasons for international variations in the logic of policy responses. It also introduces you to key debates about policy alternatives and futures.
Quantitative Research and Fundamental Statistics
This module introduces you to the types of research designs and statistical tests that are used in quantitative research, and what the fundamental underlying logic and theories are that these methods of inquiry are based on. you will learn about what quantitative research is, why it is needed, how to design surveys and experiments, the importance of sampling, about probability, hypothesis testing and common statistical tests (such as ANOVA, correlation, and regression). By the end of the module, you will have a core understanding of introductory statistics.
Methods for International Social and Policy Analysis
You will be introduced to fundamental ideas in data analysis and research methods in international comparative social and policy research, covering both quantitative and qualitative data and approaches. You will also learn about practical issues related to the design of a research project including appropriate choice of methods and data.
Optional modules available to you include:
Key Issues in Environment and Development (15 credits)
This module engages critically with the key theoretical debates that shape the environment, society and international development. By looking at current questions in development theory and their relationship to development practice in the context of environmental change, it encourages students to think critically about the ways in which interdisciplinary approaches define issues and problems, and the theoretical viewpoints that inform their actions. The unit is taught primarily through seminars: these structure students' learning, and provide an environment in which they can develop their skills in researching, presenting and debating arguments drawn from the academic literature on international development.
Digital Identities (15 credits)
Through this module, you will explore how gender, age, race, class and other identities are being reimagined in what various commentators have called a 'social media age'. You'll develop an in-depth understanding of social media platforms, roles in people's identity negotiations, examining users' social media identities in different global contexts, and paying close attention to the intersections between different identities. It reviews debates about identity formations from the earliest digital media moments and considers contemporary concerns, such as: anonymity and agency; selfies and sexting; censorship, resistance and collective identities; social media fandoms; masculinity and gaming.
Contemporary Challenges: Sociology of Brexit (15 credits)
This timely module explores a key contemporary challenge in-depth and applies key concepts in sociology (e.g. class, race, nationalism, democracy) in analysing it. The focus of the challenge will change on a three to four yearly basis. In its first iteration, the module focuses on Brexit: ideas of class and 'the left behind', English nationalism, nostalgia for empire, the media, and some of the impacts of Brexit in relation to everyday life. By studying this, you will develop a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the vote for the UK to leave the EU, as well as some of its consequences.
Sociologies of the Everyday (15 credits)
This module will explore theoretical and empirical insights into the mundane, personal and everyday. Beginning with an exploration of theoretical approaches to making sense of everyday, personal and mundane facets of the social world, you will go on to explore key areas of everyday life including personal relationships; belonging in time, space and place; interactions between politics and personal life and everyday racisms. You will also consider the challenges involved in attempting to 'capture' the everyday in empirical sociological research.
Key Issues in Global Public Health
You will be introduced to contemporary and historical public health discourses, policies and practices, before critically examining their practical and theoretical underpinnings. The module goes on to explore the role and actions of key global health players (e.g. individual governments, United Nations organisations, bilateral and multilateral partnerships, local and international non-governmental organisations and health care industries), and discusses the social determinants of health, considering how they might be tackled for improved health equity and social justice. It provides an introduction to major public health challenges in the contemporary world, illustrated through health issues (e.g. malnutrition, maternal and child health, mental health, sexual and reproductive health), socio-political issues (e.g. gender equity, trade, conflict, famine), and environmental issues (e.g. climate change, urbanisation, food security, waste management).
Theorising the City in the Global South
This module addresses debates at the interface between Urban Studies and Development Studies. Focusing on urban areas in the Global South, it looks at the city from a variety of spatial scales, from everyday practices of citizens at the grassroots level to the representation of the city within national policy and planning processes. It encourages you to think critically about the ways in which practitioners approach issues and define problems, and the theoretical viewpoints that inform their actions.
Urban Development in the Global South
This module looks at the challenges to urban planning and development in the global South: how are conflicting imperatives of ecological sustainability, social inclusion and economic competitiveness being balanced by practitioners, and what implications does this have for those living there? The module will develop your understanding of how urban planning systems are constructed and mediated by different actors.
Ideas and Practice in International Development
This module looks at key challenges and debates in international development, and asks you to reflect on how these are shaping, and being shaped by, contemporary processes of social, economic and political change within the Global South. It encourages you to think critically about the ways in which practitioners approach issues and define problems, and the theoretical viewpoints that inform their actions.
Digital Health (15 credits)
This module looks at the social implications of digital technologies in health, considering what these mean for our experiences of health and illness as patients and as citizens, for the work of health care professionals, and for the provision of health care. You will consider a range of contemporary areas such as self-tracking and gamifying health, telemedicine and care at a distance, health information on the net, electronic patient records, illness death and dying on the web, and health activism and online patient groups.
The Sociology of Culture and Identity (15 credits)
This module provides you with a critical outline of the sociology of culture and identity. You will come to recognise the key theoretical approaches to a critical understanding of the processes and social consequences of culture and identity. Culture is a defining feature of identity and contributes to how individuals see themselves and the groups with which they identify. You will be given an overview of the growing importance of social identity studies and the tools to further research social identity, and you will be encouraged to use a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to examine facets of popular culture.
Advanced Social Media Research (15 credits)
This module focuses on innovative techniques that move beyond the traditional distinction between quantitative and qualitative approaches in the analysis of social media data. You will critically discuss and apply some of the most contemporary digital methods developments. These include:
Interface methods; that is, methods combining analytical traditions from digital media, social studies of science and technology (STS) and sociology;
App walkthroughs; that is, methods to explore the intersections of apps' original purposes, normalised meanings and implied users and usages;
Techniques to detect bots and botnets in social media platforms;
Techniques to investigate the circulation of fake news on social media platforms;
Digital methods for visual research.
Global challenges in the Digital Society (15 credits)
Global challenges in the digital society explores in depth a series of contemporary issues that affect the relationship between digital media and society in the global context. Topics you will study include, among others, digital labour and international digital labour platforms and markets; disinformation, misinformation and the challenges to traditional forms of expertise; mainstream social media platforms and cross-cultural contamination; decentralised digital networks and transnational collective action; digital media and transnational governance; AI and machine learning; urban automation and smart cities; blockchain and the politics of diffusion.
Governance and Participation in the Global South (15 credits)
Since the close of the twentieth century, intentional plans to improve the quality of governance in the Global South have become a significant part of international development, and the subject of specific policy agendas around promoting 'good governance', democratic decentralisation, and enhancing public participation. This unit will use a growing theoretical literature on governance and the everyday state within the Global South to look critically at these policy agendas and their underlying assumptions.
Your dissertation options
One important aspect of optionality on the International Social Change and Policy MSc is the dissertation. You can choose to follow a standard dissertation route, or you can take the dissertation with internship route.
Your dissertation provides the culmination of all the work that you have done on the course. It is intended as a substantial contribution to knowledge, at the Masters level. It is an opportunity to put together all you have explored and learnt about:
Identifying a researchable area;
Reviewing relevant methodological research, policy and theoretical literature;
Defining specific research questions;
Determining appropriate methods of data collection and analysis;
Negotiating access and maintaining effective relationships with those whose co-operation is required in order to complete the project;
Undertaking data collection;
Drawing conclusions and considering implications for policy and practice;
Presenting findings in a research report format.
Any topic that falls within the subject areas covered by the degree could potentially form a suitable topic for a dissertation. The only restriction is that it should address some aspect of an international, supranational, or trans-national area of social change and policy. Even if the topic you have in mind doesn’t immediately appear to have a connection, it is still worth talking it over with the Programme Convenor who can advise you further as to its suitability. Provided that the subject focus falls broadly within the range of your MSc, there are only two conditions that determine suitability:
The research must be empirical and feasible from a practical point of view within the time and length constraints that are imposed.
A suitable supervisor must be available within the Department and must be willing and able to carry out the supervision.
Dissertation with Internship
The Dissertation with Internship (DI) aims to give you a broader experience of research and the study of international social change and policy than is possible on standard modules. In essence, the purpose of the DI is to offer you the possibility to collaborate with an outside organisation (be it an (I)NGO, business, public body, etc.) to undertake a piece of research specific to that organisation's needs. The nature of the collaboration between the student and the organisation and the level of support that is required will differ for each project, but for all projects the DI requires that you work with an outside organisation, and negotiate with them to come up with a project that is realistically feasible, and which has some value to them. Feeding back your research findings to the organisation is an important part of the DI.
The only criterion for the topic title is that it should address some aspect of international, supranational or trans-national social change and policy. So, for example, you could work with a homeless charity in Edinburgh, Paris or Mumbai, undertake a series of short placements with them to build relationships and an understanding of the issues that they have to deal with, and then write a dissertation about the ‘problem’ of housing provision in that country, linking it to broader processes of social change, or perhaps a general analysis of the effectiveness of that nation's homeless policy with a special critique of your organisation's strategy and international policy agendas on homelessness.
An equally viable project would be working with an organisation, undertaking a particular policy or empirical oriented project for them, which then is developed further (e.g. by locating within the appropriate theoretical and international policy frames).
Clearly, it is also quite acceptable to collaborate with an overseas organisation. If you are an overseas student who has good links in your home country, there is no reason why you cannot work with a government department or an NGO at home.
The example course structure listed above refers to the academic year 2019-20 and may be subject to change in future years. The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers.In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.
The minimum entry requirement is a 2:1 honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant or social science discipline, such as sociology, social policy, politics, international relations, or development studies. Applicants with relevant work experience and good academic potential are also encouraged to apply.
We accept students with a wide range of international qualifications. Please visit our website for international applicants for specific advice on the entry requirements for your country.
If you do not meet the entry requirements for our postgraduate taught Masters degree programme, you can still be considered for our pre-Masters programme. Please find out more about our Graduate Diploma and our relationship with Sheffield International College.
You can look up fees for full- and part-time postgraduate courses here.
CK Wong Bursary
The Department of Sociological Studies is pleased to offer the CK Wong Bursary to prospective students from the East Asia region, who wish to study the International Social Change and Policy MSc with us in 2019.
Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust Masters Scholarships
The University of Sheffield has a strong commitment to International Development. One of the themes of the University’s strategy is ‘celebrating, promoting and increasing the volume of the work that we do to improve the lives of others through our international relationships, locally and abroad’. Building on this commitment the University, in collaboration with the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust and the Sheffield Institute for International Development, is now able to offer scholarships targeted at international students from developing countries for a number of courses that are affiliated with the Sheffield Institute for International Development. Overseas applicants to the International Social Change and Policy MSc may be eligible for one of these scholarships.
Studying for your degree at the University of Sheffield offers you a world-class high-quality qualification and excellent value for money. One of the great advantages of studying at the University of Sheffield is that your money will go further in our city.
If you are an International applicant and have accepted a place on a taught postgraduate course, the University of Sheffield will ask you to pay a deposit towards your course tuition fee. By paying a tuition fee deposit you will indicate that you are definitely going to take up your place. Read more here.
You can find information on tuition fees for both UK/EU and overseas students here.
Home or overseas tuition fee status?
In common with other UK universities, the University of Sheffield charges different fees dependent on whether students are classed as Home or Overseas for tuition fee purposes. The decision to class a student as a Home or an Overseas student is determined by government legislation as set out in the Education (Fees and Awards) Regulations 2007. The regulations governing the fee status of students can be found on the government legislation website.
If you are considering, or have decided to take leave of absence, withdraw entirely or transfer to another University, you will need to know how this will affect your tuition fees. Read the Tuition Fee Refund Policy for essential information on tuition fee refunds here.
Funding your study
Find out more about financial support, money management and additional support here. There is also more information on the sources of funding that can help you pay for your postgraduate studies here.
Other potential costs
If for any reason, you fail or are unable to complete an assessed piece of work which is a requirement to pass your course, you may be required to pay a reassessment fee. information about these fees can be found on the University's exam webpages.
Majella researches at the intersection of migration and family studies, with a particular interest in migration- and family-related policies, and people's lived experiences of family-life in the context of increasing migration and mobility. She is Co-Director of the Migration Research Group in the Faculty of Social Sciences.
Current projects include MIGRATE, a project funded by the European Commission and focused on understanding the impact of 'Europe's migration crisis' on European integration. Majella is also Co-Investigator examining how families 'do care' in mobile and diverse societies, on the Economic and Social Research Council-funded research programme Sustainable Care. With colleagues at the Centre for Migration Research in Warsaw and colleagues at the University of Sheffield, Majella is also working on a programme focused on how migration is transforming Polish society.
Ruby's main research interests are comparative social policy in Europe and East Asia, defamilisation, social exclusion, welfare mix, culturally sensitive policy and practice in health and social care.
Ruby's international research experience has inspired her to reconsider the cultural relevance of conventional welfare theories to non-Western welfare systems. Since 2011, she has been working with an international team comprising researchers from Hong Kong, Sheffield, Taiwan and Shanghai to conduct a series of researches to examine the similarities and differences between East Asian and European welfare systems.
Ruby's major teaching subjects are social divisions, social inequality, social research methods, comparative social policy in Europe and East Asia.
Liam's research interests are as follows: gender and pension provision, gender inequality in the workplace, funeral provision and poverty, disability and ageing research, theories of ageing, and the sociology of sport.
Much of Liam's research focus is on inequalities in later life and policy implications, particularly in relation to pensions. This has often included a gendered focus. The role of planning for retirement has also been explored. Liam has liaised with the Labour Party, Trade Unions, the European Parliament and pension providers about these findings. He is also interested in theories of ageing and the application of the political economy of ageing.
Lecturer in International and Comparative Social Research Methods
Alvaro’s research interests include social stratification and inequality, labour markets, education, family and gender, and migration.
Alvaro has a strong methodological focus centred in a wide range of quantitative methods used across the social sciences (sociology, political sciences and economics), especially in international and cross-national comparative research. For instance, in his PhD Alvaro investigated the impact of educational homogamy in the patterns and evolution of gender inequalities in couple relationships over the course of marriage using panel methods, simultaneous equation modelling and event history analysis.
Afua's current research interests include: the global export of a particular notion of childhood through international law and policies and its impact on local communities; the implementation of international children’s rights standards within a developing country context; the impact of cultural values such as reciprocity, respect and responsibility on children’s rights principles; the socialization of children and changing parent-child relations and the implications for children’s welfare and rights; the concept of children’s participation in non-Western societies.
Afua convenes the postgraduate module ‘International Childhoods: Rights, Policies and Practices.’
Alan's research interests span a wide range in social analysis, social policy and social planning. He is a specialist in social gerontology and, with two colleagues in the Netherlands, is responsible for developing the concept of social quality and he Chairs the European Foundation on Social Quality, which is based in Amsterdam.
Alan has published more than 30 books, over 200 reports and more than 300 papers in scholarly journals and edited volumes. His work has been published in more than 20 languages. He is a founding Academician of the Academy for Learned Societies in the Social Sciences, and, in 2007, was given lifetime achievement awards by both the British Society of Gerontology and the Social Policy Association. He has been active in the UK voluntary sector for many years and co-founded the Disability Alliance in 1974. He is currently Patron of the National Pensioner's Convention.
Sue's work covers topics relating to care, work, gender and family, and draws on over 40 funded projects. These include major projects on gender and employment in local labour markets (2003-06, HEESF award); on carers, employment and services (2005-07, EU EQUAL award to Carers UK); and on the everyday lives of older people with care needs who use technology to support independence in the home (2011-14, Technology Strategy Board award). Most recently, she leads a large Economic and Social Research Council-funded research programme on Sustainable Care: Connecting People and Systems.
Sue specialises in research with the potential for policy and practical impact, and has expertise in making complex research findings accessible to a wide range of audiences, wide experience of research design and methods, and extensive knowledge of policy on care, carers and employment.
What our students say
"Having chosen to change career paths, I decided that completing a Masters degree would both equip me with new skills and give me the space I needed to find that alternative path. The MSc in International Social Change and Policy appealed to me for numerous reasons. First, I wanted to figure out how to affect social change, to be a positive actor in the world. That the course had an international focus was even better. Team this with the possibility of doing a dissertation with a paid internship, and also the opportunity to apply to the University's GLOSS scheme, then there really was no other course out there for me.
"The core module, International Social Change and Problems, has been interesting, particularly the way that we've been able to study such a variety of subjects. That we've been lucky enough to have had seminars delivered by other specialists in the department has also enriched my experience of the course. I've also enjoyed studying a module outside of the department - Theorising the City in the Global South. I love that there was the flexibility to do this and how welcome I felt in the class, despite coming from a different department."
- Lucy Jessop, International Social Change and Policy MSc graduate
"I wanted to focus on relevant issues from a global perspective, so the title name 'International Social Change and Policy' was a good fit for my research interests.
“The International Social Change and Policy MSc programme gives students the freedom to choose what they want to study in the big boundary of international studies. The course teaches students how to research and how to politically analyse their research topics, so I think this is really good for students who want to study further. I find sharing my opinions with students from other countries on the course to be very interesting.
"One of my professors in South Korea was an alumni of the University of Sheffield and she also did her PhD in Sociological Studies with Professor Alan Walker as her supervisor, so she strongly recommended that I study at Sheffield. She said: "if you want to study in the UK and you want to study policy, then I recommend you to go to Sheffield and do your Masters degree study there and then PhD study."
- Seung Hyun Moon, current International Social Change and Policy MSc student
"Everything on the course is well organised because in the first semester, we study International Social Problems and in the second semester, we will study the policy. Under the cores, all kinds of issues are introduced and covered. Everything is introduced by way of a workshop, so we are encouraged to discuss with fellow students rather than just being taught things by the teacher.
"We also learn about Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods and they are both very useful because those are the skills we need to conduct proper research."
- Hsin-Tzu Yang, current International Social Change and Policy MSc student
Social policy blog
The blog posts below, written by our academic members of staff, offer an example of applying social policy research to everyday life and give a sense of what the discipline can offer.
Austerity adversely targets children in need
Written by Dr Harriet Curchill
For the Social Policy Association Blog
In October Prime Minister Teresa May spoke again about her desire to tackle burning injustices and her belief in the good government can do. She pledged austerity is over. Yet despite evidence of desperate poverty and support services under strain, the government firmly denies austerity unfairly and adversely targets those most in need.
How the austerity agenda hurts children in need
In 2010 the Coalition government had much scope to tackle the economic crisis, pursue anti-poverty measures and promote the interests of young people. Under the former Labour governments, there was a sizeable fall in child poverty and substantial improvements in children’s outcomes. Nevertheless, greater progress was needed in several areas — not least severe child poverty (which some measures, such as benefit sanctions, exacerbated) and safeguarding child welfare. Indeed initially, despite its austerity agenda, the Coalition promised to protect those on the lowest incomes and maintain the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 and to ensure there were sufficient help and services for vulnerable children, youth and families.
Promises since broken. Child poverty targets since scrapped. Instead, the austerity agenda has adversely targeted children, youth and families in need.
How austerity has exacerbated economic disadvantage
Analysing the economic impact across households of over 40 cutbacks to, and changes in, benefits and tax credits introduced between 2010 and 2016, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found couple families with children are on average £2080 a year worse off with the figure at £1940 for lone-parent families. Perversely, families already at greatest risk of poverty — larger families, families with young children, families with disabled adults and/or children, and those in which parents are low-paid or work part-time — financially lose the most. In comparison, other households, like pensioners and adult households, sustained much smaller losses (£240-£440 per year).
In defence, the government would emphasise its efforts to tackle welfare dependency, promote employment opportunity and support deserving, hard-working families via the Work Programme, taxation changes, Shared Parental Leave, subsidised childcare and increases in Minimum Wages. But the scale of austerity (spanning the cuts in benefits and tax credits mentioned above as well as other public spending cuts and fiscal measures such as frozen public sector pay from 2010 through to 2017) and testing macro-economic trends (e.g. sluggish private sector wage growth; relatively high inflation) mean many lower to middle-income ‘hard-working families’ are not better off.
Better integrated anti-poverty, welfare and employment policies are economically and socially feasible, beneficial and necessary. For example, many call for the government to reverse the cuts in Universal Credit and re-design the system to provide dignified and enabling support for low earning and low-income adults, youth and families – as recently detailed by CPAG in 2017.
After, eight years of austerity, child poverty is back on the rise. Most concerning are the trends in severe poverty. Studies report the number of children in temporary accommodation in England more than doubled from 2010 to 2017 and 350,000 children in the UK were classified ‘destitute’ in 2017. Severe poverty concerns are now so extreme that they prompted a UN human rights investigation which described levels of poverty in the UK as ‘patently unjust’ and ‘a social calamity’. Today’s levels of economic inequality and hardship not only place individuals, families and neighbourhoods under immense strain. Society as a whole suffers from compromised welfare, potential and cohesion.
Children’s services under strain
Universal (e.g. schools, childcare, health visitors) and targeted services (e.g. children’s centres, youth, social and mental health) directly promote young people’s well-being and potential as well as support parents and families to do so. But austerity has placed these services, and the practitioners working within them, under enormous pressure with reduced resources and increased needs. The National Audit Office (NAO) reported central government funding for Local Authorities (LAs) in England nearly halved from 2010 to 2018. Within this broader context, legal duties to support disabled children, safeguard child welfare and provide services for Looked After Children — coupled with substantial increases in the numbers of children at risk and in need in these regards — has meant local funding has become more concentrated on children’s social care and more limited for services elsewhere. Analysing official data, the NAO reported in the same study linked above that LA spending on children’s centres and community development fell by 50 percent and 59 percent respectively from 2010 to 2018; the Sutton Trust estimated there were 1,000 fewer children’s centres in March 2018 compared to March 2009; and the Local Government Association (LGA) reported local funding for youth services fell by 40 per cent from 2010 to 2017. Cuts and changes to schools and health budgets add to these pressures. Analysis of service data indicates significant increases in mental health concerns with the number of pupils referred to children’s mental health services (CAMHS) by schools increasing by a third from 2014 to 2018. However, around 31 per cent of those referred and in need were declined services.
In response, the government points to its investment in targeted early interventions and support, including more subsidised childcare, the Troubled Families Programme, the Pupil Premium schemes, the National Citizens Service and the Children’s Social Care Innovation Fund. While these include worthwhile initiatives, they have been informed by negative stereotypes about ‘problem families’ and ‘incompetent professionals’ while their impacts curtailed by the broader context of reduced resources and increased needs highlighted above.
If the Prime Minister is committed to the good government can do, the post-austerity era should start with doing less harm. Then the government should proceed to spearhead the policies, investment and collaboration urgently needed on economic and social grounds to improve prospects and welfare for all.
My experience as a Policy Analyst at the 2018 G20 Summit
By Eleanor Harris, MSc International Social Change and Policy
As part of the ‘Global Leadership Initiative’, students from the Faculty of Social Sciences are eligible to apply for the opportunity to attend the annual G20 summit to write, report and reflect upon the policy discussions that take place. All the preparation, travelling and late nights culminate in the Global Policy Journal publishing blog posts and policy briefs on the most pressing issues discussed at the summit.
Such an opportunity is difficult to summarise in a single blog post, but I will do my best. For me, after being selected, briefed and doing as much prep work as my timetable allowed, it was time to travel 7,000 miles to Buenos Aries, Argentina. I was there, along with 7 other students and 2 Lecturers, to report on the discussions and decisions of some of the most important world leaders. It was an utterly exciting, if completely daunting, task.
It’s difficult to describe the International Media Centre (IMC), with all its shiny lights, bewildered journalists and constant supply of caffeine, but it is where all the work happens. There are rows and rows of tables and chairs, with eager journalists tapping away at their keyboards. You can feel the atmosphere in the room change as developments occur: Donald Trump arriving, Merkel’s plane having to turn around, rumours of tension between the leaders. There’s also a healthy supply of food (and wine) on hand most hours of the day.
As part of this experience, your status as a student at the University of Sheffield is usurped; you become a Policy Analyst for the Global Policy Journal – and you even get the business cards to prove it. The opportunities this new status and your place in the IMC present are endless: you can meet world class journalists (we were fortunate enough to bump into Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston); give your opinions live on TV; be in the front row while world leaders give their press releases; write about key policy issues and find yourself endlessly embroiled in twitter conversations. Being at the G20 is definitely work – the late nights and sore typing fingers are evidence of that – but it is the kind of work you’ll be happy to talk about for years to come.
But it isn’t just the opportunities of the IMC that I remember, it is also the opportunity to spend time with intelligent and likeminded people. As a group of students and lecturers, you work collaboratively towards your writing goal of one blog post and one policy brief each. To achieve this, you support each other. As you edit each other’s blogs and policy briefs, you are exposed to new ideas and concepts. You challenge each other over dinner and make suggestions for improvements. Not only is this experience hugely academically rewarding (writing 2,000 words jet-lagged is, after all, no easy feat), but it is also an opportunity to expand your other skills: public speaking, proof reading and social skills.
Opportunities like this don’t come around all that frequently. Despite a week of poor sleep, early mornings and endless typing, it is an experience I wouldn’t change for the world.
Read Eleanor's Blog and Policy Brief from the summit
Refugee and Migrant Crisis: New challenges of integration
By Jack Harrison
30 July 2018
Before I landed in Greece I didn’t really know what to expect from the Summer School that I was travelling to attend. I wasn’t even sure exactly what a summer school was, so when family and friends asked what it was that I was going to, I don’t think I gave any particularly informative answers. However, now that it is over I could talk about it until the sun goes down, but I will have to just fit in as much as I can into 1000 words.
The summer school was titled: “Refugee and Migrant Crisis: new challenges of integration.” When I saw it advertised I was immediately interested as I had been a volunteer for the last year with ASSIST – a Sheffield based charity which supports destitute refugees. As a result of that position I had also chose to base my dissertation on refugee integration in the UK, using Sheffield as a case study. Due to my interest in the topic, my application for funding was successful and I was awarded a scholarship by the Sociological Department which covered the course fees and flights to Greece – without which I would not have been able to attend.
Shortly after landing in the city of Thessaloniki I met the group I would be spending my time with over the next 8 days. The group really was a melting pot in every sense; students from countries all over the world, from undergraduate to PhD and from an endless list of disciplines. Previous experience of the refugee crisis ranged all the way from being refugees themselves to essentially having no knowledge past what they picked up from the media. Whilst there was a lot of variation in this regard, there was a common thread of openness to discussion, genuine interest in the topic and engagement with the programme which made the next week that much more interesting and productive.
The programme its self was excellent: well organised, varied and engaging. Mirroring the variation of the students attending the school was the ways in which we approached the refugee crisis academically. We had lectures based on international law, on the effect of the crisis on voting patterns in Greece, on factors effecting the mental health of refugees and on the ethics of conducting research on refugees, amongst many others. Beyond that we also had sessions with the Hellenic Red Cross, the United Nations Higher Refugee Commission and we also visited a small NGO based in a town outside of Thessaloniki.
We volunteered for a day and a half at this small NGO which was called Perichoresis. We were given a talk from its founder who explained how the charity formed in response to the asylum seekers coming into Greece who were clearly in need of support. The name Perichoresis derives from a religious concept which roughly translates as ‘to make room for,’ which guided their approach to integrating asylum seekers and refugees into their community. He told us the story of his ancestors who in the early 20th century were forced to leave their homes as part of a compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey. He had heard first hand stories from his family of being refugees in need of help; now it was someone else’s turn. We spent the rest of our time being immersed in the activities Perichoresis delivers on a daily basis including English lessons, nursery activities for children and even a friendly game of football. It was a privilege to see people who have come from such difficult backgrounds having positive experiences, and to be a part of that if only for a day.
The last session of the week was a conversation with refugees who were currently living in a camp outside of Thessaloniki. They were three young boys aged between 17-20. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves with our names and where we were from, one of the boys responded with a greeting in the language of each person, whether that be English, Turkish, Italian and half a dozen more. To hear someone so young, obviously intelligent and full of potential talk about the tragic circumstances that have shaped their lives so far was difficult to hear, and very much put a human face to the ‘academic’ topic we had studied for the previous week. It was inspiring to hear how they remained optimistic and were making efforts to get the formal education that they missed out on.
It would not be doing the summer school justice if I did not mention the social side too. It was such an interesting, friendly and experienced group of people that I had the pleasure of spending my week with - both staff and students. A special thanks goes to the students from CITY College based in Thessaloniki who went out of their way to make us feel welcome, to show us the best their city has to offer in terms of places to eat, drink, visit, and the best spot to watch England in the World Cup. We had guided tours of the city and even got to spend our Saturday at an idyllic beach bar which was closer to what I had imagined when I pictured Greece in my mind.
I have taken away from the Summer School knowledge, experiences and friends, and that is more than I could have hoped for.
The Summer School was organised by University of Sheffield International Faculty, CITY College, and the Department of Sociological Studies provided scholarships for some of its students to participate.
By Alan Walker for the Social Policy Association's 50th anniversary blog series
8 January 2018
Social policy has neglected ageing and, as a result, it has vacated what should have been a leading role in responding to one of the biggest challenges facing the world. This neglect has also reinforced, rather than critically demolished, the official national and global policy orthodoxy which concentrates on old age, not ageing, and assumes that later life is a ‘natural’ period of decline. This has contributed, in turn, to the widespread tendency, seen most poisonously in the 2017 General Election, to regard rising social care costs as the inevitable result of population ageing. Rather than asking if the projected demand for social care (i.e. extrapolations from the present) is inevitable and, if not, what policy approaches might mitigate it, the usual response across the political spectrum is to focus instead only on the supply side: funding. This political myopia entails substantial Exchequer costs but, more importantly, does nothing to address the human consequences of unnecessary disability...
'Not one of you any longer': EU nationals’ Brexit uncertainty and mistrust
By Dr Hannah Lewis, Dr Majella Kilkey, Dr Julie Walsh and Professor Louise Ryan
15 December 2017
The Brexit vote has plunged EU Nationals resident in the UK into uncertainty. For the first time many face profound feelings of rejection, betrayal and fear for their futures and those of their children and families. Whatever deal is struck during Brexit negotiations regarding the ‘settled status’ of EU nationals, the general trajectory of May’s Conservative Government on citizenship and immigration has been the deliberate and open pursuit of a ‘hostile environment’. The promotion of discrimination through bordering practices that permeate multiple areas of everyday life – housing, health, education, legal support and advocacy, banking services and work – has marginalised all migrants but also any person of colour. The Brexit campaign and vote has shattered the myth of Britain as an open, tolerant society.
Britain is doing less than other countries to end pensioner poverty for women
By Dr Liam Foster, Dr Ruby Chau and Professor Sam Yu (Hong Kong Baptist University)
12 December 2017
How does the UK compare with other European countries in relation to family-friendly policies? Liam Foster, Ruby Chau and Sam Yu look at eight European countries and develop two new indices on ‘defamilisation’, the degree to which social care measures make it possible for people to participate in activities outside their home. Their research shows that the UK still has much to do to moderate economic inequalities in older age between men and women.
Women are typically overrepresented in pensioner poverty. On average, in the EU the percentage of men aged 65+ at risk of poverty is less than 15%, compared with over 20% of women. These trends reflect women’s constrained opportunities across the life course, including their greater likelihood of undertaking caring responsibilities, its impact on employment and, subsequently, women’s increased chances of reaching retirement with inadequate pensions.
The level of gendered inequalities is affected by the extent to which pension systems address these diverse experiences and compensate for relative disadvantages in the division of work and care, including the use of care credits. Unfortunately, typical male working patterns are still largely the reference point for calculating pensions in most countries, with gender differences in work and care often overlooked.
Read the full blog post on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog here.
Everyday lives: Children, poverty and the unequal chances of being in care
By Professor Kate Morris
12 November 2017
What does living in poverty mean for the chances of bringing up your children? What’s the relationship between poverty and going into care? These are just some of the questions a study called ‘Child Welfare Inequalities’ has tried to look at.
Researchers in Sociological Studies at Sheffield and five other UK Universities have been looking at children’s chances of being removed from their families into the care system. The research, led by Professor Paul Bywaters shows clearly that you are far more likely to be in care or need a child protection plan if you live in the poorest neighbourhoods. The research also shows that there is a ‘social gradient’ – this means that as poverty increases the chances of entering care or needing protection increases.
The researchers based at Sheffield (led by Professor Kate Morris) spent time in social work teams looking at the influence of poverty on social work decisions, and whether differences in the nature of local social work could explain the big differences in care and protection rates. They found that whilst there were some differences, on their own these couldn’t explain the national picture of unequal chances of being in care or in need of protection.
The research tells us that it’s poverty and deprivation that is key in understanding the unequal rates. You are up to ten times more likely to be in care in the poorest parts of England, compared to the richest parts. The research that helps us understand how welfare policies about children and families and government decisions about funding have real consequences for the everyday lives of children, including the chances of living with their families.
The findings from the research have been used nationally and internationally to help politicians and senior managers think differently about the impact of poverty. But it’s also helped frontline social workers think about the children and families they work with, and how poverty makes it so much harder for parents to care safely for their children.
The findings from the research (funded by the Nuffield Foundation) has been on the BBC, in the Guardian, on Radio four and in the local press, and has helped to start to change the conversations about the relationship between poverty and child protection.
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