Procedural Legitimacy Logics within the Digital Welfare State

Simon Halliday, Jed Meers, Joe Tomlinson

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One of the most profound shifts seen in governments around the world in recent years is the emergence of the digital welfare state. This transformation has seen the welfare state increasingly dependent on digitalised, automated, and data-driven forms of public administration, which are altering the nature of welfare provision itself. This transition raises a fundamental question: what does a legitimate process look like in this new welfare state? Using new qualitative datasets, this article explores how public officials, welfare claimants, and welfare rights advisors reason about the processes of the UK’s flagship social security programme, Universal Credit (‘UC’)—one of the most prominent digital welfare systems anywhere in the world. It shows that, while the new era of digital welfare is characterised by a paradigmatic, shared intention to make processes work for claimants, the logic of what constitutes an acceptable process for claimants diverges in important ways between officials, advisors and claimants. We characterise these respective logics as ‘UC as a service’, ‘UC as an entitlement’, and ‘UC as a relationship’. Our purpose is not to claim one of these logics is superior per se but that a greater appreciation of them, the perspectives from which they derive, and where and how they differ, can shed valuable light on emerging tensions within and disagreements about the digital welfare state.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Security Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2024

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