How social policies can empower people to fulfill potential

How social policies can empower people to fulfill potential

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Social policies lie at the heart of government work and hold the key to unlocking a number of great ambitions. Traditionally, the Middle East’s social policies have focused mainly on low-income groups and typical support comes in the form of financial assistance, housing grants and medical assistance. While this is an essential aspect of its function, a fundamental opportunity exists to evolve social policy and target wider society.
The region is currently facing a number of pressing social challenges, such as high divorce rates, low fertility, child neglect, dysfunctional family life, juvenile delinquency, gender inequality, and neglect of specific vulnerable groups. As such, social policies need to work together with other public policies to create synergies, maximize positive outcomes and extend coverage to different social segments.
Human capital is recognized as the engine of dynamic economies, contributing to nations’ long-term competitiveness in multiple aspects. Today, experts are linking the efficacy of social policies to a number of priorities, such as well-being, economic productivity, poverty levels, education, healthcare, employment, pension systems, living conditions, demographic composition, criminal justice, and urban planning. A well-designed social policy can influence favorable outcomes in all these aspects once root causes are elucidated and interventions activated. For example, urban planners rely on demographic data to project future housing plans, schools, hospitals and other amenities needed according to different residential areas.
Abundant evidence on the impact of social policies establishes its importance. In particular, effective, responsive and inclusive social policies have been recognized historically and globally as powerful mechanisms for elevating overall human welfare. For example, there is considerable research affirming the connection between the quality of a child’s first five years of life and long-lasting impacts on their outcomes throughout schooling and adulthood. Moreover, several studies are linking effective family policies to increased female participation rates in the labor market, improved economic self-reliance, sustained unpaid care for vulnerable family members, and increased fertility rates. Furthermore, counseling services and awareness programs are recognized as important tools to empower individuals with useful, practical knowledge and skills that allow them to take personal responsibility for improving their quality of life. Lastly, social policies are recognized as a basic human right to a quality life and for societies to be sustainable.
One of the foremost approaches to designing effective, timely and responsive social policies is understanding the intricacies of society itself. Gathering updated social statistics and conducting regular social research are imperative to comprehending the various aspects of a person’s life and the root causes of struggles, as well as the ability to design interventions accordingly. Gleaning best practices from leading market research firms, policymakers can begin by segmenting society into various target groups. This includes infants and toddlers, young children, teenagers, youths, adults, and the elderly.

Effective, responsive and inclusive social policies have been recognized as powerful mechanisms for elevating overall human welfare.

Sara Al-Mulla

Social segments can be further categorized depending on demographic data, such as age, gender, location, income level, employment status, health status and marital status to reveal specific challenges facing each segment. Lastly, policymakers could collate all these data points to create a “persona” that recreates a specific target audience, with specific details on policy and program needs.
Moreover, such insightful data can aid policymakers in addressing the root causes of social issues, such as increased rates of divorce, school dropouts, and juvenile delinquency. For example, many school dropouts are linked to dysfunctional family life, parental neglect, parental disinterest in education or the effects of divorce on a child’s emotional well-being. Equality lies at the heart of social policy and policymakers must define a minimum standard of living, in addition to essential services and programs that are easily accessible to different individuals. Such data will also be useful for forecasting changing demographics and the long-term impacts of unaddressed social policies, such as reduced fertility rates, low economic productivity or unemployment on the overall economy.
Many governments design social policies according to different life stages, making sure to intervene with a suite of effective policies, services and programs that maximize positive outcomes for individuals. Individuals at every stage of their lives should be covered by some form of social policy that is appropriate to their situation and provides beneficial, equitable coverage. Ensuring they maintain an acceptable level of well-being and living standards will put them in a state where they can achieve many ambitions in life. To illustrate, interventions could include generous parental leave, family-friendly labor policies, early childhood development centers, universal healthcare, scholarships, after-school activities, social care services, services for people with special needs or chronic illnesses, and housing policy.
One of the key tenets of social policy is empowering individuals to make sound decisions and adopt positive behaviors that will improve their quality of life. This shifts the focus toward personal responsibility to maximize positive outcomes. Successful examples include awareness programs and counseling services for all social segments. Common themes include personal financial management, premarital and marital counseling, parenting advice, career counseling, and retirement planning. Many governments offer such services through family centers, which are strategically located in residential areas, offering a suite of important social services to the local community. Governments and nonprofit organizations in the UK, Australia and Singapore, for example, have launched informative websites that offer valuable advice on parenting, relationships and living well in old age.
Social policies should be at the crux of government work in order to harness the full potential of all individuals and to offer them an opportunity to improve their quality of life.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.
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