What the human rights act will mean for social policy studies

September 29, 2000

The first implication of the Human Rights Act for social policy teachers relates to teaching and learning strategies.

Acquiring knowledge of the relevant articles could encourage more rote learning to the detriment of intellectual understanding.

A second implication is that students will have to read a broader range of literature. Law reports have always been a useful but, perhaps, little-used source of social policy debate. New academic texts by lawyers in this field are providing insights into the substance of social policy in a way that earlier texts did not.

Strong runners in a revised social policy curriculum must include the right to life; the right to a fair trial; the right to liberty and security; the right to respect for private and family life; the right to marry and found a family; the prohibition of discrimination in enjoyment of a convention right and the right to education. Students will have to be familiar with these articles and with their relevance to the ethics, economics and consequences of granting or denying public services.

A third impact is likely to be a change from an emphasis on the general concept of need. Social policy teachers still base their intellectual raison d'etre on the concept of "need" and how social institutions meet it. A curriculum encompassing legal rights and access to the act will put more general emphasis on rights.

To the social science curriculum will almost certainly have to be added a working knowledge of the act, a more substantial consideration of the laws underpinning social policy institutions and a greater familiarity with the everyday consequences of legal reasoning for social policy teaching and welfare reforms.

John Carrier is senior lecturer in social policy at the London School of Economics. Ian Kendall is professor of social policy at the University of Portsmouth.

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