Welfare rights in theory and practice

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The concept of welfare ‘rights’ is closely associated with the emergence of modern welfare states in the first half of the 20th century, which shifted responsibility for the relief of poverty from church and charity to the state. Despite their unquestioned importance to individual wellbeing, social cohesion and the enjoyment of other rights, these social rights have struggled to gain acceptance as concrete, enforceable entitlements. Perhaps as a consequence, they have arguably been vulnerable to roll-back in recent decades. This paper explores the various grey areas welfare rights inhabit. The first key question is whether they are best regarded as human rights or citizenship rights (although the two are not mutually exclusive). Related issues concern the clarity of what rights are actually conferred, their enforceability and the extent to which they should be contingent on the fulfilment of reciprocal responsibilities. The second main strand examines the nature of rights, considering the relationship between substantive rights – for example, to a minimum standard of living – and procedural rights, notably access to justice in arenas from frontline decision making to the higher courts. This feeds into wider consideration of the interdependence of civil, political and socio-economic rights. The paper presents some initial thoughts for a chapter in the forthcoming Edward Elgar research handbook on social welfare law.
Period31 Mar 2021
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association 2021
Event typeConference
LocationCardiff, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • social rights
  • welfare state
  • welfare rights
  • social security
  • citizenship
  • human rights