Ontological contradictions in the UK’s Universal Credit reforms

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The Universal Credit reforms of the 2010s were a crucial turning point in the UK’s social security system. The reforms have been widely criticized in the literature for placing too much responsibility on welfare recipients, for using cultural explanations of poverty, and for prioritizing incentive-based solutions. This article argues that these common points of criticism actually point to demonstrable contradictions in the formation of Universal Credit, contradictions that are problematic regardless of the strength of the aforementioned criticisms. The focus is on “ontological contradictions”, which derive from fundamental assumptions about how individual agents relate to their material and ideational contexts. To make this argument, a critical realist framework is developed in a dialogue with existing poststructuralist approaches.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolicy Studies
Early online date18 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jan 2023


  • Social security
  • material and ideational
  • ontological
  • ontology
  • policy assumptions
  • social policy analysis
  • structure and agency


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