What Is a Social Issue?

Social issues are problems we witness and experience in our day-to-day lives. Some can affect us directly, and some are issues further away from our own lives, but they can impact our communities negatively. Let's unpack the term social issue. We know social means within society; issue means a problem or challenge, so what can we do about them? Read on!

How Do We Know Something is a Social Issue?

Generally speaking, a social issue is a problem that negatively affects many people in your community, in Ireland or globally. If most people agree that this issue is a big problem that needs to be solved, it is a social issue. If people feel the problem can be solved through social action, extra resources, or changing regulations, it's a social issue. 

Social issues are interconnected. For example, if someone is homeless, feels incredibly alone, and cannot see any way out of their situation, they can quickly turn to substance abuse to numb their loneliness. Sadly, for some, this can become a pathway to addiction, and this exasperates the original problem of homelessness.

Many social issues result from a lack of resources and support from Governments. For example, Ireland's homeless and housing crisis results from a lack of affordable and social housing from successive governments since the 1990s. 

We can list social challenges that lead to social issues in a variety of categories, such as: 

I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.

— Lily Tomlin (Actor and Activist)

Examples of Social Issues: 

Normalisation and Desensitisation 

As a society, if we see social issues every day, we can become numb or desensitized to this social issue. This is described as normalisation, and it can be detrimental to the issue and how we challenge it and try to fix it or bring attention to it. Normalising social issues can create a narrative of blame and stigma towards the people experiencing the social issue and, for example, blaming young people for gathering and socialising in large groups in a community but not offering them any alternative social spaces or activities after school. 

How To Spot Social Issues

The following are some of the ways that you might discover social issues that are impacting people you might meet every day and weren't even aware of!

Read your local newspaper and note what issues are being covered, e.g. crime, vandalism, drug use, closure of facilities, traffic chaos etc.

Talk to people in your community, particularly people you wouldn't usually come into contact with and see how the issues they face are different to your own, e.g. front-line health workers, local gardai, elderly neighbours, parents of small children, members of the travelling community, refugees etc.