From housing, pensions and family benefits, to health care, unemployment insurance and social assistance, the welfare state is a key aspect of our lives. But social programs are contested political realities that we can't hope to understand without locating them within the "big picture." This book provides a concise political and sociological introduction to social policy, helping readers to grasp the nature of social programs and the political struggles surrounding them. It takes a broad comparative and historical viewpoint on the United States, using an international perspective to contextualize American social policy within the developed world. Provocative and engaging, it offers insight into a wide range of social policy issues such as: welfare regimes, welfare state development, the politics of retrenchment and restructuring; the relationship between social programs and various forms of inequality; changing family and economic relations; the role of private social benefits; the potential impact of globalization; and debates about the future of the welfare state. What is Social Policy? will be stimulating reading for upper-level students of sociology, political science, public policy, and social work.