Research subject area content
We carry out independent, critical, high-quality research on a variety of social and public policy issues. Our research spans all levels of policymaking, from local and community government here in Edinburgh, to international organisations such as World Health Organization and the European Union.
The quality and breadth of our research has been ranked by Times Higher as second in the UK and first in Scotland, and as third in the UK and first in Scotland according to Research Professional.
Although we form a distinct subject area within the School of Social & Political Science we are involved in various collaborations across many of the University’s departments and schools. Our principal research themes are:
- The governance of welfare states has been at the core of Social Policy’s research and teaching since its establishment in 1918 and continues to be so given the impact of COVID-19 on welfare policy.
- Global health policy and health inequalities. We are home to the Global Health Policy Unit, an interdisciplinary, world-class teaching and research unit. Our research in this area involves strong links with the School of Health in Social Science and the Usher Institute based in the University’s Medical School.
- Children, families and relationships. We have strong research and policy engagement links with the interdisciplinary Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
- Science, knowledge and policy. We have strong research links with the interdisciplinary Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy (SKAPE).
Our subject area is very proud to currently be the home of one of the leading journals in the field, the Journal of Social Policy, which is edited by our colleagues Dr Jan Eichhorn, Dr Elke Heins, and Dr Jay Wiggan.
We host two research groups. Meeting regularly during academic semesters, the groups offer spaces for academic staff and postgraduate researchers to present papers and receive feedback.
- The Education, Community & Sustainability Research Group
- The Work, Economy & Welfare Research Group
Given our commitment to addressing the social and public policy challenges confronting society, effective knowledge exchange and research impact are central to our work.
Many of our colleagues are engaged in knowledge exchange activity in various ways, including giving evidence to parliamentary committees, writing policy briefs with think tanks, giving interviews to journalists, blogging, and working with charities, agencies, and NGOs. Our impact strategy is driven by three pillars of activity, which many of our colleagues are engaged in. They are:
- Co-production of research. Research benefits from including people from outside the academic community in the process of designing, undertaking, and analysing research. It allows academics to learn from those affected by policy, ensuring that different forms of knowledge, experience, and expertise are used in the research process.
For example, our colleague Dr Claire Houghton has engaged in co-production in her research integrating children’s rights into policy on gender-based violence.
- Collaboration and partnerships. Much of the work undertaken by colleagues in our subject area involves collaborating and partnering with institutions and organisations outside of the University. We have collaborated with - amongst others - the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the Pan-American Health Organization, Public Health England, the former UK Department for International Development, Cancer Research UK, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For example: Dr Mark Hellowell has collaborated with the World Bank and the WHO on health systems finance; Professor Jeff Collin, Dr Rob Ralston, and our former colleague Dr Sarah Hill have worked with the Pan-American Health Organization on conflicts of interest in public health; Dr Elke Heins and our former colleague Professor Kat Smith worked with the Samaritans to produce a landmark report on the relationship between inequality and suicidal behaviour.
- Advisory roles. Formal advisory roles are a way to make important contributions to national policy and practice through proximity to government officials and ministers.
For example: Dr Claire Houghton has advised the Scottish Government on child protection and gender-based violence and the European Institute on Gender Equality on domestic abuse policy; Dr Orian Brook is a member of the ‘college of experts’ appointed by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport; Dr Jan Eichhorn was a member of the expert panel advising the European Commission's Joint Research Centre on the project Enlightenment 2.0; Dr Elke Heins is currently a policy fellow working with and advising the Welsh Government.
Research projects content
Research projects links to content
Bringing labour back in: class antagonism, labour agency and Britain’s active labour market reforms
The project challenges top-down accounts that explain this transformation through a focus on the ideas and interests of elites.
Changing food habits and health from infancy to childhood
This research looks at childhood food and health inequalities and how these change over time within the context of family factors and social policy.
Domestic Abuse Court Experience Project
This research project found that victims and witnesses of domestic abuse are still experiencing trauma within the justice system despite major legal reforms introduced in 2019.
Education, Community & Sustainability Research Group
An interdisciplinary and comparative group organised around monthly activities during the semester.
Exploring data and knowledge sharing in response to welfare reform and benefit sanctioning
This research project sought to better understand and improve public services in order to reduce inequalities.
From Paris to PISA: Governing Education by Comparison 1867-2015
From Paris to PISA is a research project about the history of governing education with international comparisons, from the late 19th century world fairs to present international large scale assessments.
Parental Leave Policy in Scotland
Using a mixed methods approach, this research explores how parental leave could be improved in Scotland and how fathers can be supported to use the leave they are entitled to.
Social Policy: This project aims to explain how that role of education has come about using the uniquely rich set of educational surveys of Scotland that date back to 1932 and extend to the present century.
The Feminist Policy Project
The Feminist Policy Project (FPP) will be a collaborative venture through which contributors critically evaluate and creatively re-write a range of UK social policies.
The national evaluation of the NSPCC Speak Out, Stay Safe Programme
Social Work: The study involves an analysis of the way the programme is delivered to children; an evaluation of whether children’s knowledge about different forms of child harm increases.