The state of the social union

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The establishment in 1998 and 1999 of devolved legislatures for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that were to a large extent ‘social policy parliaments’ (Birrell) has inevitably had consequences for the UK as a welfare state. Although it is possible to overstate the extent to which a single, unitary welfare state existed prior to 1998, legislative devolution provided an opportunity for differences of ideology or perceived need in the different UK countries to find expression to a greater extent than previously. Unionist narratives continue to emphasise the benefits of the social union, including the recent report of the Gordon Brown-led Commission on the UK’s future, but the character of that social union has unquestionably changed and will continue to change. Taking social security as a case study of these processes, this paper draws on two waves of fieldwork (2014-15 and 2020) with elite policymakers at their heart. Combining their insights with an interrogation of TH Marshall’s citizenship theory, it assesses the extent of, and reasons for, both divergence and continued parity in social protection across the UK’s constituent countries in the devolution era.
Period6 Apr 2023
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association annual conference 2023
Event typeConference
LocationDerry-Londonderry, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • social union
  • welfare state
  • social citizenship
  • social security
  • devolution
  • united kingdom