Social security in a ‘shared space’: the intergovernmental dimension to welfare state devolution

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The assumption of a more active role for the UK’s devolved institutions in the development of social security law, policy and practice presents an unprecedented challenge for intergovernmental relations within the state. Devolved social security discourses are often fiercely critical of the UK Government’s approach, but in practice the systems are so interdependent and interconnected that a degree of joint working is unavoidable. This applied most obviously to the transfer of functions and caseloads from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Scottish Government, but even after this has been completed the smooth operation of the UK, Scottish and Northern Irish systems will depend on intergovernmental cooperation. Trench (2009) characterised intergovernmental working within the UK as dependent on ‘informality… and a heavy reliance on goodwill’, with McEwen and Petersohn (2015) still lamenting the neglect of ‘shared rule’ in the settlement six years later. Drawing on a qualitative longitudinal study with elite actors (elected representatives and officials) in Scotland and Northern Ireland, this paper examines interactions between tiers of government in an area of policy that increasingly matches one research participant’s description as a ‘shared space’. The data show divergent accounts of the extent to which the devolution settlement and the UK Government support or undermine devolved institutions as they seek to achieve their own priorities in social security, and of how (or indeed whether) the tensions that result from the division of competences might be resolved.
Period8 Jul 2022
Event titleSocial Policy Association annual conference 2022: Inter-generationality: Challenges and Prospects
Event typeConference
LocationSwansea, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • devolution
  • social security
  • welfare state
  • social citizenship
  • intergovernmental relations