Ageing and Society

Forum Article

Choice, consumerism and devolution: growing old in the welfare state(s) of Scotland, Wales and England


a1 Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

a2 Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, London, UK.

a3 School of Applied Social Science, Stirling University, Stirling, UK.

a4 School of Social Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, UK.


The introduction of choice and consumer mechanisms in public services has been identified as a fundamental shift in welfare service provision internationally. Within the United Kingdom (UK), such mechanisms developed and integrated into English services have not been replicated in their entirety in Scotland and Wales. For the first time since the inception of the UK welfare state, there are now formal differences in entitlement for older people as a result of devolution. This paper uses comparative policy analysis to review a range of sources not hitherto brought together in order to explore how these concurrent developments – choice and devolution – impact on people over state retirement age. We also consider the extent to which a more consumerist approach to public services might redress or increase later-life inequalities. Drawing on theoretical research and policy evidence, we argue that for many people over state retirement age, the prospect of becoming a consumer in these varied contexts is difficult and unwelcome. We suggest that although it is too early in the devolutionary process for any significant impact of these divergent policies to materialise, continued policy divergence will lead to different experiences and outcomes for older people in Scotland, Wales and England. We conclude that these divergent social policies offer significant research opportunities, particularly concerning their impact on later-life inequalities.

(Accepted April 27 2011)

(Online publication June 30 2011)


c1 Address for correspondence: Suzanne Moffatt, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley-Clarke Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AX, UK. E-mail: