Social impact bonds – evidence-based policy or ideology?

Michael J. Roy*, Neil McHugh, Stephen Sinclair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Chapter Abstract: In this chapter we investigate the Social Impact Bond (SIB), a financial instrument that has attracted considerable interest from both policymakers and financiers, and which, from its beginnings in the UK, has spread across the globe in a very short time against a backdrop of austerity measures and the encroachment of market incentives and business principles into social welfare provision. We argue that such proliferation has occurred despite sufficient consideration of the implications of this instrument, nor sufficient acknowledgement of the potential ethical issues that it raises.
The first part of this chapter redresses this lack of critique. It also makes a more general point about the limitations of purportedly ‘evidence based policy making’ within the neo-liberal welfare paradigm, which ignores evidence and reframes essentially moral questions as technocratic issues. We argue that this lack of engagement with ethical issues is a mirage that all public policy instruments and welfare decisions ultimately rest on some normative understanding of the ‘common good’. Consequently, society should not only be concerned about what works best from a narrowly economic standpoint, but about for whom policy instruments such as SIBs are supposed to work, and in what way.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Social Policy Evaluation
EditorsBent Greve
Place of PublicationNorthampton, MA
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781785363245
ISBN (Print)9781785363238
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • social impact bonds
  • economics
  • ethical issues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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