The Legacy of Austerity

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In considering the impact of austerity, much attention has been focused on the immediate effects of public spending cuts and on documenting the resulting increase in hardship and unmet needs. However, in calculating the consequences of austerity for the welfare state, it is its enduring legacy that is equally important. This article examines the proposition that the indirect effects of austerity on social, economic and political relations are as significant for the welfare of future generations as the ‘decade of austerity’ has been for contemporary welfare. The analysis draws on the approach adopted by Paul Wilding (1992) reflecting on the 1980s as the ‘decade of Thatcherism’. Wilding’s ten legacies are recategorised across four dimensions: normalising a non-commitment to welfare, societal scarring, refuelling the race to the bottom and diminishing the political capacity for change. The conclusions suggest that austerity will abide in the social and political relations of welfare long after austerity measures have ceased.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Policy and Society
Issue number1
Early online date17 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s), 2021. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Austerity
  • welfare state
  • commitment to welfare
  • societal scarring
  • welfare transformation

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