Dignity through discretion: a review of discretionary support schemes in the UK

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The role of discretionary payments in the social security system has taken on added significance over the course of the last decade as cuts to social security benefits have reduced their ability to meet basic subsistence needs. The patchwork of discretionary support services across the UK that, since 2012, has replaced the statutory Social Fund is therefore faced with meeting an expanding need from budgets that are, at best, cash-limited rather than demand led, and at worst, subsumed within other budget priorities that leave no scope for emergency or discretionary support. This article reviews the provision of crisis or emergency relief schemes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the context of how they each contribute to the objective of protecting the dignity of those in need of emergency support. It considers, in particular, the empirical research carried out in 2021 as part of the Independent Review of Discretionary Support in Northern Ireland, a statutory review which the lead author was appointed to chair, and to which the other authors contributed. The article examines the extent to which Discretionary Support in Northern Ireland currently provides dignity for its users and outlines the recommendations made by the panel to better meet the objective of dignity. On the basis of this evidence the article outlines how dignity through discretion could be delivered across the UK.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Security Law
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Jan 2023


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