Renegotiating Social Citizenship in the Age of Devolution

AuthorMark Simpson
Date01 December 2017
Publication Date01 December 2017
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 646±73
Renegotiating Social Citizenship in the Age of Devolution
Mark Simpson*
The period 2012 to 2016 saw important developments in the role of the
United Kingdom's devolved legislatures in shaping the social rights of
citizenship. Near-uniformity in social security is being eroded, with
competences devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland proceeding
with limited divergence from Great Britain. This turn to regionalism is
linked with dissatisfaction with British government approaches. This
article examines developments from a social citizenship perspective.
Welfare state regionalism is a challenge to Marshall's perceived
unitary view of citizenship. Yet, it is argued, moves towards divergence
are driven by regional differences of perspective on citizens' social
rights and reciprocal obligations in a way that emphasizes the con-
tinued relevance of Marshallian theory. The democratization of
political rights gave birth to social rights in the early twentieth
century; today, the regionalization of democratic citizenship enables
alternative visions for social citizenship to be articulated and begin to
shape welfare services at devolved level.
Legislative devolution has brought changes in the social rights of citizens in
the United Kingdom's component regions.
However, the maintenance of
*School of Law, Ulster University, Derry-Londonderry BT48 7JL, Northern
Heartfelt thanks to the 36 research participants, to GraÂinne McKeever and Ann Marie
Gray for their exemplary supervision of the project, and to Fionnuala Nõ Aola in, Ciara
Fitzpatrick, and the journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on previous
drafts. Research funded by a Department for Employment and Learning studentship and a
Socio-Legal Studies Association fieldwork grant.
1 D. Birrell, The Impact of Devolution on Social Policy (2009); D. Birrell and A.M.
Gray, `Social policy in the devolved administrations' in The Coalition Government
and Social Policy: Restructuring the welfare state, eds. H. Bochel and M. Powell
ß2017 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2017 Cardiff University Law School
near-uniformity in social security prior to 2012 meant regionalization of
social citizenship remained limited. The Cameron governments, despite the
Conservative Party's view of devolution as `constitutional vandalism',
would oversee the most significant regionalization of responsibility for
income maintenance since the foundation of the modern welfare state. This,
thus far, limited process challenges interpretations of Marshall's social
citizenship theory that situate responsibility for citizens' economic welfare
with the nation state.
This article suggests divergence can be reconciled
with Marshallian citizenship if subnational political units hold and pursue
different perspectives on the nature of the associated social rights.
The period between 2012 and 2016 saw Scotland and Northern Ireland
take steps towards greater regional autonomy in social security. Through
analysis of political and legal developments, and of interviews with policy
makers, the article presents empirical evidence that regional differences in
ideologies of social citizenship provide a partial explanation for this process.
Devolved-level elites have clear concerns with central government reforms
(not uncontroversial in England) that can appear at odds with conceptions of
Marshall as an advocate of extensive, largely unconditional, welfare provi-
sion as an engine of greater equality. A combination of concern about central
government policy and a desire to use devolution to develop an approach
that better suits Scottish or Northern Irish needs and desires underpin a
growing welfare regionalism that to a large extent transcends the unionist-
nationalist divide. Section I introduces the Marshallian account of the
emergence of social citizenship, its link to a minimum standard of living, and
the challenge potentially posed by devolution. This is followed in section II
by a brief description of the empirical study from which the findings flow.
Section III gives an overview of key social security reforms under the
Cameron governments, which sections IV and V suggest are at odds with
both common interpretations of Marshall as favouring a generous welfare
state with light-touch conditionality and the aspirations of Scottish devolved
elites, in particular. Section VI highlights these divergent ideologies, and
their translation into policy, as a challenge to views of the nation state as the
natural locus of social citizenship, but argues that, contrary to his depiction
as a welfare unionist, this is compatible with Marshall's account of social
rights as emerging from the exercise of political rights. The conclusion sums
up the argument and emphasizes the continued relevance of Marshallian
theory to a decentralizing United Kingdom.
2 Conservative Party, Invitation to join the government of Britain: the Conservative
manifesto 2010 (2010) 83.
3 G. Mooney and C. Williams, `Forging new ``ways of life''? Social policy and nation
building in devolved Scotland and Wales' (2006) 26 Critical Social Policy 608; M.
Keating, `Social citizenship, solidarity and welfare in regionalised and plurinational
states' (2009) 13 Citizenship Studies 501.
ß2017 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2017 Cardiff University Law School

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