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Social justice and public policy

Social justice and public policy: Seeking fairness in diverse societies

Gary Craig
Tania Burchardt
David Gordon
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  • Book Info
    Social justice and public policy
    Book Description:

    Social justice is a contested term, incorporated into the language of widely differing political positions. Those on the left argue that it requires intervention from the state to ensure equality, at least of opportunity; those on the right believe that it can be underpinned by the economics of the market place with little or no state intervention. To date, political philosophers have made relatively few serious attempts to explain how a theory of social justice translates into public policy. This important book, drawing on international experience and a distinguished panel of political philosophers and social scientists, addresses what the meaning of social justice is, and how it translates into the everyday concerns of public and social policy, in the context of both multiculturalism and globalisation.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-353-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables, figures and boxes
    (pp. vi-vi)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Tania Burchardt and Gary Craig

    Everybody is in favour of social justice, almost by definition. But what they mean by social justice, the priority they accord to it relative to other objectives, and the public policies they believe follow from it, vary widely. In the UK in 2007, for example, the recommendations of the right-wing Conservative Party’s Social Justice Policy Group, chaired by ex-leader Iain Duncan-Smith, while attempting to distance itself from laissez-faire approaches, nevertheless focused on reinforcing the

    ‘welfare society’ rather than the welfare state.¹ Tackling ‘an underclass, where life is characterised by dependency, addiction, debt and family breakdown’ (SJPG, 2007, p 5), was...

  3. ONE Social justice and public policy: a view from political philosophy
    (pp. 17-32)
    Jonathan Wolff

    Many of those active within social policy, either as theorists or practitioners, became interested in the field in which they work at least in part through their perception of what they believe to be the profound social injustices they see around them. Hence they conceive of their work as part of a movement for social justice. Despite this, the positive requirements of social justice, in detail, are contested. Of course, some gross social injustices are easily recognisable even without an explicit theory of justice. In other cases there can be serious disagreements about what social justice requires. Commonly it is...

  4. TWO Social justice and public policy: a social policy perspective
    (pp. 33-52)
    David Piachaud

    From a small child protesting that ‘It’s not fair’, to a former Enron employee, commenting on a senior executive who had been urging employees to invest their savings in Enron stock at the same time as he was unloading his, saying ‘It was unjust’, a concern for social justice dominates much of everyone’s lives. ‘Social justice’ is a term that is both normative and prescriptive: situations are assessed in terms of their social justice and actions are guided by concepts of social justice.

    Social policy is to a large extent concerned with social justice. For example, in Britain, politicians commonly...

  5. THREE Multiculturalism, social justice and the welfare state
    (pp. 53-76)
    Will Kymlicka

    One of the major challenges facing Western societies concerns increasing ethnocultural diversity. There are three diversity-related trends that are transforming Western societies:

    the increasing ethnic and racial heterogeneity of the population;

    the increasing politicisation of ethnocultural identities, and the rise of ‘identity politics’; and

    partly in response to the first two trends, the increasing adoption of ‘multiculturalism’ policies to accommodate ethnocultural groups.

    In short, there are changes in demographic composition, political mobilisation, and public policies.

    These diversity-related trends pose several challenges for the pursuit of social justice. First, there are questions about the fairness of multiculturalism policies themselves. How can...

  6. FOUR Structural injustice and the politics of difference
    (pp. 77-104)
    Iris Marion Young

    It is now a truism – which I dispute – that a politics of difference is equivalent to ‘identity politics’, about claims of justice concerning cultural difference. There are at least two versions of a politics of difference: a politics of positional difference and a politics of cultural difference. They share a critical attitude towards a difference-blind approach to policy and politics. They differ, however, in how they understand the constitution of social groups, and in the issues of justice that they emphasise. While both versions of a politics of difference appear in contemporary political debates, over the last two decades the...

  7. FIVE Recognition and voice: the challenge for social justice
    (pp. 105-122)
    Ruth Lister

    This chapter addresses both the more theoretical and the more policyoriented themes of this volume. It begins with an overview of how some of the theoretical literature on social justice has addressed the relationship between distributional and relational justice (couched in the language of recognition and voice). Is social justice about distribution or is it about relations of respect, recognition and voice – or a combination of the two?

    The chapter then turns to its central concern, namely the recognition paradigm of social justice. The first issue it addresses is the association of this paradigm with social movements and identity politics....

  8. SIX Globalisation, social justice and the politics of aid
    (pp. 123-138)
    Christopher Bertram

    One of most important recent developments in theorising about social justice has concerned the extension of the conception of justice developed by Rawls inA theory of justice(1999a) to the global arena. In what follows I review some of this discussion and suggest that cosmopolitan critics are right, against Rawls himself, to suggest that we should treat the world as a whole (or at least the global economic system as a whole) as being in principle subject to evaluation according to a single distributive standard. But while that standard can be extended beyond the borders of nations to the...

  9. SEVEN Social justice and the family
    (pp. 139-156)
    Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift

    The family is a problem for any theory of social justice. On the one hand, children born into different families face very unequal prospects. However those prospects are conceived – as chances of social mobility, of lifetime well-being or income, or simply in terms of quality of childhood experiences – the fact that children are raised in families generates inequalities between them that it is hard to defend as fair or just. On the other hand, any suggestion that we should do away with the family for the sake of social justice, instead raising children in centrally organised quasi-orphanages or the like,...

  10. EIGHT Children, policy and social justice
    (pp. 157-180)
    David Gordon

    Children’s needs and services are one of the current UK government’s foremost policy priorities. In 1999, Tony Blair gave a commitment to end child poverty forever, within a generation. This was, arguably, the most radical and far-reaching policy commitment made by the New Labour governments. More recently, Children’s Commissioners have been appointed in every country in the UK and the 2004 Children Act and the Every Child Matters framework ( are designed to coordinate services for children at all levels of government. The announcement of the Children’s Plan by the new Secretary of State for Children late in 2007 takes...

  11. NINE Social justice in the UK: one route or four?
    (pp. 181-204)
    Katie Schmuecker

    Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was one of the earliest and most radical Acts of the 1997 Labour government, opening up new and more democratically legitimate centres of decision-making power in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Such constitutional changes are often regarded as dry, arcane matters of interest to a select few. But constitutional changes can have profound implications for policy and practice. Since the devolved administrations came into being in 1999, the achievement of overarching aspirations – such as progressing social justice – have required a different approach, one that takes account of policy differences in different parts of the...

  12. TEN Monitoring inequality: putting the capability approach to work
    (pp. 205-230)
    Tania Burchardt

    The capability approach offers an account of equality based on the distribution of substantive freedom. It has been developed by Amartya Sen and, in a somewhat different version, by Martha Nussbaum, over a period of several decades. The approach has been used extensively in international development, most notably in the United Nations Human Development Index, but until recently has rarely been applied to policy or analysis in the global North. Indeed, one of the recurring complaints about the approach is that, while it may be attractive in theory, it is unworkable in practice other than in a crude form. This...

  13. ELEVEN The limits of compromise? Social justice, ‘race’ and multiculturalism
    (pp. 231-250)
    Gary Craig

    The idea of multiculturalism is now widely under attack. A former UK Home Secretary argues that Muslim women should be unveiled when consulting him as an MP as he wishes to see their face. In France, the wearing of the veil and other religious symbols has been forbidden at public schools; and in Canada, the Province of Ontario, having proposed a degree of autonomy to Muslims in the exercise of sharia law, have backtracked on that position under political pressure. The Dutch government has introduced a series of new policies that spell ‘the end of multiculturalism’ (Bader,2005). In some quarters...

  14. TWELVE Understanding environmental justice: making the connection between sustainable development and social justice
    (pp. 251-276)
    Maria Adebowale

    Debates on sustainability and the concept of environmental justice reflect a number of macro-arguments on the theory of social justice and distributive justice. There are a number of conundrums within the construct of social justice as it relates to environmental and sustainable development policy. This chapter aims, first, to provide a theoretical understanding of the main issues and second, to illustrate the application of environmental justice theory at UK policy level.

    The chapter begins with the concepts of sustainability and environmental justice both at UK and global levels, exploring the constructs of human rights, participation and governance. This discussion leads...