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Discretion as blame avoidance: Passing the buck to local authorities in ‘welfare reform’

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Poverty and Social Justice
DateAccepted/In press - 30 Nov 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 15 Feb 2019
DatePublished (current) - 28 Feb 2019
Issue number1
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)41-60
Early online date15/02/19
Original languageEnglish


This paper argues that central governments can avoid blame for cuts to social security by transferring discretionary powers to local authorities. When making reductions to entitlements, conferring discretion avoids delineating the boundary of who is affected, allowing: for conflicts at the heart of policy formation to be deliberately fudged; decisions to be shielded from the gaze of the public and the courts; and responsibility for the impact of budget reductions to be externalised. Using three ‘welfare reforms’ in the UK as examples – the council tax reduction scheme, discretionary housing payments, and local welfare assistance schemes – four ‘blame avoidance’ functions of conferring discretion are proposed.

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© Policy Press 2019. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • welfare reform, SOCIAL SECURITY, DISCRETION, Discretionary Housing Payments, discretionary housing payments, discretion, local authority, local government law

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