The tattered state: Falling through the social safety net

The past decade of austerity in the UK has accelerated changes in the relationship between citizens and the state. Cuts to welfare spending have resulted in uneven geographical impacts, further distorting the UK society and economy. Analysing specific policies within the new patterns of welfare spending, we argue that austerity policies have compromised the UK state’s promotion of an ethics of care. We distinguish between welfare changes which intensify long standing policy trends, and others, such as automation and digitalisation of the welfare system, which are qualitatively different to previous reforms. To offer an example of how this is playing out in place, we explore a detailed case study of the English coastal town of Great Yarmouth, which was an early pilot town for contemporary welfare reform in the UK. The case study situates welfare changes within the widespread and uneven austerity measures of the past decade, showing how public services of the local state are weakened despite increased need. We find that many non-profit organisations try to fill some of the gaps in the tattered social safety net. However, they too are dependent on state funding, and so austerity also depletes their capacity to care. In this sense, care is interdependent, multi-sited, and interlocking. Through this case study of a town with high claimant counts, we show how these changes in the redistributive state precipitated a crisis in care, and exacerbated poverty and territorial injustice in an already highly divided country. UK austerity has drastically altered the role of the state, leaving many people more susceptible to other crises.