Closer to Home

Exploring the scope for deeper devolution.

This is a project led by Amy-Grace Whillans-Welldrake to explore a new settlement for
 a truly local welfare state: a grassroots perspective to re-design the welfare state


The welfare state is facing serious financial and demographic challenges and has experienced radical and damaging ‘reforms:’

As a result the capacity of the welfare state to respond to today’s challenges of increasing poverty, insecure work, low skills and a rapidly ageing society are reduced. These trends, will have a major effect on the UK driving increasing demand for public services. The UK’s future therefore relies on its ageing workforce, and the ability of the welfare state to support citizens to live happy, healthy and productive lives (Gov, 2016).

So what does this mean for the future of our welfare state, and how can we rise to these challenges? 

For many devolution is the answer and is seen as providing greater democratic control and responsiveness around decision making. Enabling local solutions and early intervention which reduce demand on public services. An approach pioneered by Greater Manchester in 2014 with the first City Deal, followed by the devolution of its £6 billion health and social care budget. Yet recent devolution deals have been criticised as undemocratic, and fragmented, with the potential to create unequal distributions of resources and political power, increasing the likelihood of privatisation (Fineberg, 2015).

So where do we go from here? Perhaps the answer to creating effective services capable of addressing the challenges facing the UK lie not in Whitehall or even the town hall, but in the citizens, whose experience in using the welfare state make them the real experts.

We want to explore the possibility of a more radical system redesign and a renewed vision from the bottom up.

Our project is a response to these challenges and it aims to gain a citizen perspective on how we experience services and to identify a vision for a welfare that is fit for the future. To do this we will explore the third sector and voluntary groups who are delivering innovative services and effective outcomes through their relationships with individuals and their communities. Our intention is to provide a radical alternative and challenge the current reform agenda from a grassroots perspective:

Our approach

As part of our research we will adopt a mixed methods approach combining quantitative and qualitative analysis to produce a report which will imagine what a localised welfare state could look like.

Our research will focus on Greater Manchester (GM), and will select two neighbourhood areas from the 10 authorities as case studies. The first stage will involve data analysis of the demographic challenges facing Greater Manchester, followed by an analysis of public spending at GM, local authority and if possible neighbourhood level. This analysis will aim to reveal the fiscal challenges restricting local reform capacity and the reality of the public sector economy in Manchester.

The second stage of our research will map what public services (specifically employment, health and social care) are available across the chosen local authorities and neighbourhoods. We will then do a deep-dive study into the two selected neighbourhood areas to ask residents and providers about their experience of services, and what they would like to see from a future system. This will consist of individual interviews and facilitated workshops in each area.

The report will highlight cases of best practice in each neighbourhood, evaluate their impact, and any barriers or restrictions facing services and local initiatives. Evidence from each stage of the research will then be combined to suggest a new settlement for the welfare state and argue what would need to change to enable this to happen.


We will be conducting research from the 1st of October 2018 with the aim to produce a final report by the 15th of December 2018.

For enquiries about this project please contact Amy-Grace by email.


Project | 04.01.19

local government, Neighbourhood Democracy, England, Project