The spatial strategy of equality and the spatial division of welfare

Martin Powell*, George Boyne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper we argue that little is known about either the geographical objectives or the spatial outputs of the welfare state. Conclusions of geographical inequality are problematic for three main reasons. First, the geographical aims of the welfare state, "the spatial strategy of equality", are unclear. Second, the geographical distributional paradigm is rarely placed in the wider context of local and national welfare states, and the tension between spatial equity and local autonomy is ignored. Third, the geography of welfare, "the spatial division of welfare" is often based on simplistic and confused evidence. Much of the existing work implicitly takes a centralist perspective, assuming that all geographical inequalities are defects. Issues of local government, local politics and local welfare states are ignored. All detected inequality may not be "bad", and greater spatial equity may not necessarily be "good". The spatial division of welfare should not be examined in an analytical vacuum, isolated from the wider contextual issues of national and local services and the trade-off between local autonomy and territorial justice. If the "default value" is that all detected geographical variations are assumed to be defects, then the arguments for localism are doomed to failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-194
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Equality
  • Geography
  • Local autonomy
  • Localism
  • Territorial justice
  • Welfare state


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