The state of the social union

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The social rights of citizenship are always in flux, but have undergone rapid change in the 21st century as UK governments have sought to prioritise paid employment as the means of securing one’s economic welfare while continuing to offer protection against (shifting interpretations of) poverty. In tandem with, or in reaction to, this trend, the different countries of the UK have taken steps towards the development of (somewhat) distinctive approaches to social protection. Conditionalisation of financial support, particularly since 2006, its diminution post-2010 and steps towards the sub-national fragmentation of social security challenge mainstream interpretations of the Marshallian vision of social citizenship. Uncertainty about the constitutional futures of Scotland and Northern Ireland and withdrawal from the EU show that even the geographic extent of citizenship is not fixed. Recently, the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic points to a new debate about how the state supports people through periods of low income, and how it identifies those who merit support. Previewing a forthcoming monograph, this paper presents initial findings from the second phase of a qualitative longitudinal study with policymakers in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2014-15 and 2020. The ideological and pragmatic drivers of changes to the nature of social citizenship rights are explored through the eyes of figures at the heart of the debate. Legal developments at UK level are shown to reflect shifting ideologies of welfare, which are not necessarily shared by, or whose consequences cause concern among, devolved elites, resulting in steps towards a more regionalised welfare state.
Period1 Apr 2021
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association 2021
Event typeConference
LocationCardiff, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


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