Disciplinary, enabling or proportionate welfare states? Regional ideologies and the devolution of social security

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Social security policy since 1997 has largely been driven by a ‘welfare-to-work’ agenda. However, while New Labour combined claimant activation with increased levels of support the Cameron governments’ approach has been dominated by disciplinary measures. This paper examines the extent to which the UK government’s agenda, still the main force in shaping social protection state-wide, is in fact an English agenda that other regions would prefer not to adopt given meaningful policy autonomy. Drawing on the findings of empirical research with elite actors at devolved level it seeks to draw conclusions about how a Scottish or Northern Irish welfare state might differ from the English/UK model. It suggests that Scottish elites, while embracing welfare-to-work objectives, offer a vision of an enabling welfare state in which disciplinary measures are less central to promoting transition to employment. This perspective is likely to fuel continued demand for devolved social security competences beyond those in the Scotland Bill, which allow for very limited divergence in out-of-work benefits. In Northern Ireland, where formal devolved competence is constrained by economic weakness, greater buy-in to the disciplinary model is found to be tempered by a desire to develop what is portrayed as a more proportionate approach to conditionality. This philosophy underpins some of the ‘mitigating’ measures being put in place as the region belatedly transposes most of the measures in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Period7 Apr 20166 Jul 2016
Event titleSocial Policy Association annual conference 2016: Social Policy: Radical, Resistant, Resolute
Event typeConference
LocationBelfast, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • social security
  • conditionality
  • devolution
  • regionalism
  • welfare state
  • social citizenship
  • social rights