Midgley, Surender and Alfers (eds), Handbook of Social Policy and Development

James Midgley, Rebecca Surender and Laura Alfers (eds), Handbook of Social Policy and Development, Edward Elgar, 2019, xiii + 486 pp, hbk, 1 78536 842 4, £155

The eBook version is priced from £36 from Google Playebooks.com and other eBook vendors, while in print the book can be ordered from the Edward Elgar Publishing website

The recent development of social security systems of various kinds in countries that previously had either no such provisions or very rudimentary ones has generated interest in the characteristics and outcomes of such systems: hence both the writing and the importance of this handbook, which combines the methods and resources of social policy and development studies to offer an overview of the current state of welfare states in developing countries.

The first part of the book is theoretical and historical. In chapter 1, Midgley charts the development of both social policy and development study as academic disciplines, and reviews the history of the academic study of social welfare in developing countries. In chapter 2, Surender finds that economic development and social development are now regarded as complementary, and she charts both the divergences and convergences between developing and more developed countries in relation to social policy, and the divergences within the global south.

The second part of the book studies key issues and debates. Chapter 3 finds that the discipline of social policy can help us to understand the practical outcomes of social movements; chapter 4 finds that cash transfers have benefited women, but that more needs to be done to improve gender relations; chapter 5 compares global social policy and its institutions with national social policy and its institutions, and finds that national development benefits from global legislation and policy being incorporated into national law and policy; chapter 6 compares the UN Social Development Goals with the previous Millennium Development Goals and finds that universalism is a constant theme; and in chapter 7, Hartley Dean discusses the emergence of the human rights and social rights traditions, finds that engagement between rights-based approaches, mainly developed in the global north, and a social development model found mainly in the global south, has resulted in the social policy discipline paying attention to human rights as well as to social rights, and argues that social policy needs to engage with a variety of understandings of the role of human rights.

Chapters 8 and 9 tackle urban and rural development respectively; chapter 10 argues that environmental sustainability and social development can be complementary aims; chapter 11 discusses security and development, particularly in relation to Syrian women refugees; and chapter 12 discusses the role of regional bodies in development and social policy. Chapter 13 asks that both development studies and social policy should engage with the increasingly precarious character of the employment market; and chapter 14 asks how social protection mechanisms should evolve in a context of changing employment markets.

The third part of the book focuses on particular policy areas. Chapter 15 finds that healthcare policy is taking universalism seriously, but needs to do more; chapter 16 calls for greater equity in educational provision; and chapter 17 suggests that states should encourage home ownership. Chapter 18 reviews social insurance benefits, and particularly pensions, and resists the privatization of social insurance; chapter 19 studies diverse means-tested social assistance policies; and chapter 20 concentrates on conditional cash transfers. Chapter 21 studies social work; chapter 22 financial inclusion; chapter 23 community development; and chapter 24 the role of non-governmental organisations.

Chapter 10 describes ‘Basic Income’ as for ‘the marginalized share of population’, and suggests that it ‘may well lead to seriously dividing our societies into a two-class system: those that participate in the production processes and those that do not’ (p. 196). The opposite would be the case. First of all, Basic Income is for everyone, not just for the marginalised: and secondly, for that reason, and because it would not be withdrawn as other income rose, it would encourage engagement in productive processes and certainly not discourage it. Chapter 19 suggests that means-tested benefits ‘are similar to proposals for a universal basic income which guarantee a minimum income for all’ (p. 363): again a misunderstanding. Universal Basic Income is not means-tested, and does not guarantee a minimum income, as means-tested benefits do. Rather, it provides the same income to everyone of the same age: a totally different concept. The same mistakes are repeated at some length later in the chapter. Neither the Namibian nor the Indian Basic Income pilot projects are mentioned. If ever there is a second edition of the handbook then the authors of chapters 10 and 19 might wish to extend their literature reviews and revisit what they say about Basic Income.

On p. 80, ‘unconditional’ on line 10 should read ‘conditional’: a significant difference.

A conclusion drawn by the editors, and explained in the introduction, is that the variance between global north and global south countries is becoming smaller, which means that conceptual frameworks developed in the north for studying welfare states are increasingly relevant to the global south, and global south and global north countries have much to learn from each other. This conclusion is borne out by the chapters of the book.

How social security and other social policy is evolving in developing countries is a vital field of study, so this is an important book. And it really is a ‘handbook’: comprehensive, accessible, well-researched, and accurate (on the whole). It will be an important reference work for anyone involved in development, development studies, and social policy, with that term understood as both a field of activity and a field of study.