Key Facts

Course Title: Ethics of Social Welfare
Course type: MA, Postgraduate Diploma
Mode of Study:Full Time or Part Time
Contact Details:Andrea Scott
Website: Go to School homepage
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Subject Area: Law
Tuition Fees

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This course provides an opportunity to explore and gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of the ethical issues, and moral problems, which arise in the field of social welfare. By focusing on specific problems and ethical challenges that social welfare professionals face in the course of their work it aims to deepen understanding of the philosophical bases of good practice, and to enhance the ability to think systematically about these decisions.

Teaching is delivered in short intense blocks, enabling those in full-time employment to do the course part-time and fit it around the demands of their work wherever they are based.

The course is taught by lecturers in ethics who have a special interest and expertise in social welfare ethics. There will also normally be input from specialists in the law as it relates to social welfare. Keele hosts a wide range of seminars, workshops, lectures and visiting fellowships, many of which are available free of charge to Keele students. Where these are on topics directly related to the course we endeavour to tie them into the relevant teaching blocks.

The Ethics of Social Welfare teaching team have many years experience of teaching postgraduate applied ethics courses. We are well aware of the special problems and challenges which may face mature students and those combining study with full-time work, and therefore we do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning.

Aims of the Course

This course aims to deepen your understanding of the philosophical basis of good practice in social welfare, and to enhance your ability to think systematically about the moral issues that you may face in the course of your work.

Entry Requirements

The course is open to all those with either a degree in a relevant subject, or appropriate professional qualifications and/or expertise. Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in social welfare issues, such as (but not limited to) social workers, probation officers, police officers and voluntary workers in relevant areas.

Course Content

The MA course involves both taught sessions and a chance for students to write a dissertation on a topic of their choosing in the area of social welfare ethics. Teaching occurs in four three-day modules that run between October and April. This innovative structure has proved particularly popular with social welfare professionals in full-time employment as it allows students to combine study with full-time work, and family and other commitments. It also enables students who are based in all areas of the UK and beyond to attend. Contact between students and staff, and between students, is facilitated between modules to create a distinctive student community.

The MA requires the successful completion of 180 M Level credits, made up of four 30-credit taught modules and a 60-credit dissertation. It can be taken either full-time or part-time. When taken part-time the four taught modules are completed in the first year, with the dissertation being completed in the second year. When taking this route there are no specific attendance requirements during the second year. If the course is being taken full-time, it can be completed within one year with the dissertation being submitted at the start of September.

Some students may not want to do the whole course. An alternative route is to leave after completing the four taught modules. Successful completion of these will lead to the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in the Ethics of Social Welfare.

The content of the modules is briefly outlined below with illustrations of the topics to be covered:

Module 1: Introduction to Moral and Social Theory

This module examines those parts of moral and social theory which are especially relevant to the work of social-welfare practitioners and policymakers. Topics covered normally include: the nature of moral theory and its relationship to practice; relativism and tolerance; the relationship between law and morality; and the role and status of ethical codes.

Module 2: Autonomy, Responsibility and Punishment

This module aims to enhance students’ understanding of several different conceptions of autonomy, responsibility and punishment, and examines the way in which these notions can inform ethical decision making. Topics covered normally include: information handling (e.g. issues of disclosure, confidentiality and privacy); compromised autonomy (e.g. issues relating to mental illness and addiction); the moral and legal status of the child; and the functions and justification of punishment.

Module 3: Equality, Discrimination and Rights

This module explores a number of competing conceptions of equality, discrimination and rights. Topics covered normally include: philosophical theories of discrimination and equality; discrimination and ‘affirmative action’; specific forms of discrimination (e.g. age, gender, race); feminism and the ‘ethics of care’; and the nature and status of moral and legal rights.

Module 4: Ethics and Social Welfare – contemporary debates

This module explores some current controversies in social and political philosophy that are of particular relevance to social welfare practitioners. Topics which might be covered include ethical issues relating to the family (e.g. the respective rights of children and parents and the legitimacy of state intervention); the tension between individual rights and community values; and the idea of a multicultural political system. The module also includes sessions on research methods for those intending to progress to the MA.


The dissertation gives students a chance to undertake a more intensive piece of work (between 15,000 and 20,000 words) on a topic of interest to them. While working on the dissertation students will have a supervisor to provide support and advice during the writing process. Dissertation topics are chosen by the student themselves and must relate to an issue within the broad area of social welfare ethics.

Teaching and Assessment

Each of the taught modules is assessed by a single piece of coursework. This comprises an essay of 4,000 words for each module. All modules must be passed in order to proceed.