Social citizenship in the devolutionary state: a clash of law and politics? Some initial findings

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The nature of the citizen’s social rights, and how these are realised in practice, is intimately linked to ideological perspectives on social citizenship. Reform of UK social security law since 2007 has been firmly grounded in the political belief that paid employment should form the “key to citizenship” (Lister, 2003), as the route to economic security and social participation. The same period has seen an apparent erosion of political support for the view that social citizenship and social protection systems should be “national in character” (R (Carson) v SSWP [2005]) as devolved regions’ concern with UK government policy has translated into demands for increased regional autonomy in the field of social security. This paper presents provisional findings from a socio-legal study of social citizenship in the devolutionary UK. Through legal and policy analysis and qualitative interviews with elected representatives and civil servants it considers the extent to which devolved level political responses to the Welfare Reform Act 2012 present a challenge to the 1998 devolution settlement. At first glance, there appears to be a contrast between Northern Ireland, where full devolved competence has to date resulted in little divergence from UK government approaches to social security (Simpson, 2015), and Scotland, whose government’s open hostility to the 2012 Act can find little legislative expression due to lack of competence. Whether this distinction survives closer inspection and the role of conceptions of social citizenship and national identity in informing views on the merits of a shared UK social citizenship will be interrogated. As Northern Ireland questions to an unprecedented extent the merits of parity with Great Britain in social security and Scotland looks to the devolution of new powers in the field, consideration will also be given to ways in which policy in the devolved regions might diverge from the Westminster model.
Period1 Apr 2015
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association annual conference 2015
Event typeConference
LocationWarwick, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • social citizenship
  • devolution
  • welfare state
  • social security
  • northern ireland
  • scotland