The relevance of Marshall’s theory of citizenship to the UK’s 21st century welfare state(s)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


TH Marshall’s theory of citizenship has been much-critiqued in the 73 years since his lecture on ‘citizenship and social class’, but remains central to how researchers understand the modern welfare state. This paper examines current challenges to the Marshallian view of the citizen’s ‘right to welfare’. Some have occurred previously, with the ‘anti-welfare commonsense’ of the post-2010 age of austerity echoing Marshall’s own observation that ‘welfare appear[ed] to be suffering a loss of status’ in the early 1980s. Others are new. Conventional interpretations of Marshall locate responsibility for the citizen’s economic welfare at the level of the nation state. The question of what territory represents ‘the nation’ is increasingly contested within the UK, while the welfare state is progressively regionalising in the post-1998 age of devolution. The paper suggests these developments cast doubt on any conception of citizenship as an engine of progressively greater equality, but support the Marshallian thesis that the social rights of citizenship flow directly from the exercise of its political rights. Devolved-level developments show signs that regionalisation might, in some circumstances, offer a surer route to a social minimum than centralisation. An analysis of the theoretical literature on social citizenship and of constitutional and social security developments in the 21st century is supplemented with data from qualitative interview with elite actors (politicians and officials) with an interest in social security in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Period6 Apr 2022
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association conference 2022
Event typeConference
LocationYork, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • citizenship
  • social citizenship
  • TH Marshall
  • devolution
  • social rights
  • welfare state
  • social security