Devolving social security to Wales could be beneficial but would bring significant challenges

Devolving the administration of social security to Wales could bring fiscal benefits and improve outcomes for claimants, but it would be a complex and time-consuming process and carry significant risks.

A new report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) at Cardiff University brings together evidence about the potential advantages and risks. Drawing on experience in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the researchers recommend that policy makers in Wales adopt a four-step approach to determine:

  1. What outcomes would devolving the administration of social security aim to achieve? This can be used to guide decisions about what changes could be made and can be articulated through a set of core principles underpinning a Welsh approach to social security.
  2. What is it about the current system that is preventing Wales from achieving those outcomes? This means identifying which benefits are in scope for reform and how those are currently administered.
  3. How could the current system be changed to achieve these outcomes? For example, taking a more consistent approach to administering social security, providing enhanced support to claimants, redesigning benefits or creating new ones.
  4. What would be the policy implications of these changes? Along with legal and fiscal implications for the Welsh Government (such as changes to the devolution settlement), the risks of any unintended consequences and changing demand for benefits also need careful consideration.


Emma Taylor-Collins, co-author of the WCPP report, said:

“Devolving aspects of the administration of social security presents an opportunity for Wales to take control of parts of our welfare system that have a significant impact on the lives of the people of Wales. But before any attempt to change the current system, it’s vital that we are clear about what it is that we want to achieve in Wales and why. That will help guide decisions about what needs to change and how.”

Dan Bristow, co-author of the WCPP report, said:

“Wales can learn a lot from approaches to devolving social security in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Greater Manchester. While the evidence suggests that there could be potential benefits in devolving the administration of aspects of social security here, we shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the challenge, the time it could take to implement any changes, or the risks of unintended consequences”.

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said:

“I welcome this report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy. The absolute focus of this Welsh Government is on making sure we use the resources and tools already devolved to Wales to support those most in need in, ensuring they have the greatest impact on those who need support the most.

“The report highlights that seeking to devolve any powers over social security is a highly complex task and carries significant financial risks to the Welsh Government. This now requires careful consideration, particularly to avoid any unintended consequences and detrimental impact on those who are supported through the social security system.

“This report, together with a recent Senedd committee report on the issue, will help us clarify next steps as we continue to investigate whether further devolution of social security is the right step to take at this time.”