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Retrenched, Reconfigured and Broken: The British Welfare State after a Decade of Austerity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2020

Kevin Farnsworth*
University of York, UK E-mail:


This article is an attempt to take stock and critically reflect on the UK’s decade of austerity and social policy hostility over the past decade. It distinguishes between economic and political austerity and digs deeper into the data on expenditure in order to examine the impact of austerity on British public expenditure and politics. It argues that the decade of austerity was a hostile one for British social policy which not only undermined the financial base of key parts of the welfare state, it reshaped it and redefined its priorities, setting in train a series of subsequent events that would further change, not just British social policies, but British economics, polity and politics. And, as subsequent crises – notably Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic – testify, crisis events tend to be linked, and each one shapes and influences the ability of the state to respond to the next.

Themed Section: A Hostile Decade for Social Policy: Economic Crisis, Political Crisis and Austerity 2010-20
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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