Skip to content Accessibility statement

University of York awarded £1.1 million to lead the first stage of UK’s first comprehensive study on devolution and social security

Posted on 25 April 2024

The University of York will lead a new multi-institutional partnership to explore the differences in how social security is designed and delivered across different parts of the UK.

Households across the UK receive different social security support depending on where they live.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, this major study will map the nature, extent and impact of the devolution on social security systems at national, regional and local levels. This will enhance understanding of the consequences for the millions of families across the UK whose experiences and outcomes differ depending on where they live. 

Regional differences

“It is common to talk as if there is a single UK social security system in the UK, but this has not been the case for some time. Devolution at the national, regional and local level all impacts on the social security a household will receive,” said Ruth Patrick, Professor of Social Policy in the School for Business and Society at the University of York, who is leading the study. 

“For example, a single parent family living in Birmingham could be hit by the Benefit Cap, but one living in Belfast or Glasgow is protected because of decisions made by their devolved national administrations. Despite the scale and nature of these differences, this issue has never been subject to sustained interrogation.”

Alex Beer, Head of Portfolio Development at the Nuffield Foundation said, “Families across the UK receive different social security support. Although this difference is increasing, our understanding remains low. This strategic project will combine quantitative analysis, examining levels and trends across local authorities, with important qualitative insights into lived experience. In conjunction with engagement with policymakers at national and local levels, it will deliver a definitive account of devolved social security and identify opportunities for policy and practice improvement.”

Real-time findings

The project will share its research findings with policy makers in real-time, so that the findings can directly influence and improve policy and practice in a rapidly changing labour market and workforce.

Professor Patrick said ‘‘There is a pressing need to improve social security in the UK. We need to  better understand the differences in how social security is designed and delivered in different parts of the UK and use this research to support the delivery of better policies for families.”

Collaboration for impact

“I welcome this important award which will build on the great expertise at York in collaboration with other key partners in and beyond the university sector. Working in partnership across all four nations of the UK allows us to understand the challenges and learn from each other about what works, based on a robust evidence base,” said Karen Rowlingson, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of York. 

“Poverty continues to grow in uneven ways. It is only by understanding societal changes that we can achieve social change for public good.  We are grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for funding this timely work, which has the potential to improve policy making and, subsequently, the lives of millions of families across the UK.”

Project partners

The project brings together expertise from seven universities across all four nations of the UK, who will work alongside the Resolution Foundation and Child Poverty Action Group. The universities are:

  • Cardiff University
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Salford
  • Ulster University
  • University of York

Explore more news

Media enquiries

Alistair Keely
Head of Media Relations

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

About this research

The Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

Explore more research

Related research themes