Articles A brief guide to UK social policy databases

A brief guide to UK social policy databases

Finding your evidence by Wikipedia or Googling can be a dangerous business. Better to use tried-and-tested databases. Below is a review of the main UK social policy databases by Rebecca Riley at the Idox Information Service covering academic papers and ‘grey literature’ of think-tank, charity and government reports. 

Over the last four decades, database providers have gone from photocopying articles and posting them out weekly, to CD-ROMs holding hundreds of searchable articles and now, with the dawn of the internet, extensive, searchable, subject-specific archives.

The UK was a strong competitor in the provision of databases however there are very few remaining British social science databases.One reason is the false perception that “everything is on the internet” when it isn’t, valuable content is often behind pay walls or retained by the organisation. In other cases funding has stopped, databases closed or it has been taken over by a foreign organisation, and therefore the balance of UK content changes. Social science databases, are largely funded through subscription models and include:

The Idox Information Service

The Idox Information Service (formerly The Planning Exchange) has been providing information services on public policy and practice to central government, public agencies, councils and universities since its inception in the late 1970’s. At its core it aims to support evidence based policy, by providing authoritative guidance and research support. Today it holds over 200,000 summarised research resources, increasing by 1,000 abstracts per month, across 30 local authority public policy areas including planning, regeneration, social policy and economic development.


Ageinfo is the only UK database covering all aspects of ageing and older age, including research and practice in the social and health issues of older age. A bibliographic database of over 55,000 books, articles and reports from the specialist collection held by the Centre for Policy on Ageing, who also deliver specialist research services. Information covers best practice to develop and implement policy, support and services on ageing; including health and social services; residential and community care; living arrangements; financial inclusion; independent living; citizenship; rights and risks.

NSPCC Inform

A free resource for those working in the childcare and protection sector,NSPCC Inform includes all forms of case reviews and literature and current awareness bulletins. This database provides research and statistics on child abuse; working with children and families; policy and guidance on child protection; resources; case reviews and learning materials.

Social Care online

Previously known as Caredata, Social Care online is an electronic library delivered by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, with over 150,000 abstracts covering all aspects of social care, social welfare and social policy, currently free to access through a grant from the Department of Health. It covers information of people with social care needs; those receiving care services; key issues such as integrated services, safeguarding or legislation; Government policy and social work and the social care workforce.


From the National Children’s Bureau charity, ChildData  is the only bibliographic database covering all aspects of research and practice in young people’s social care. It is now only available through Social Policy and Practice. Content includes reports, research and resources on early childhood; education and learning; health and wellbeing; involving young people; play; sector improvement; SEN and disability; and vulnerable children.

Social Policy and Practice

A one-stop-shop for research, analysis and discussion of health and social policy, Social Policy and Practice database holds over 350,000 abstracts on social policy, 30% of content is grey literature. The database made up from selected content from the major providers, Idox Information Service, Social Care Institute for Excellence, National Children’s Bureau and the Centre for Policy on Ageing, (NSPCC data is currently also being added) this is run through Ovid Technologies on a commercial basis.


By using these services, subscribers know they have taken the quickest path to reviewing all the evidence, confident that they are up to date, relevant and focussed on best practice within the UK.These services sit within a world of information ‘overload’, where policy practitioners are awash with information opportunities that are hard to translate into knowledge. It is increasingly difficult to assess the quality of evidence and finding it is increasingly difficult in a world where algorithms push content ‘you should be interested in’. These archives are based on the knowledge, experience and expertise of real people and organisations operating within the policy fields.


Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Remember you can join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.