Understanding Social Citizenship, by Peter Dwyer

2nd edn, Policy Press, 2010, xix + 260 pp, hbk 1 847 42329 0, £65, pbk 1 847 42328 3, £19.99

The number of degree course modules on ‘citizenship’ is increasing, and this book is designed as a core text; but it will be useful not just to teachers and students, but also to social policy practitioners and politicians because the contested and complex concept of citizenship now informs debate on all manner of social policy issues, as this book amply shows.

There is material here on republicanism and liberalism, the development of social citizenship in Britain, political ideologies since the 1950s, class, poverty, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, social Europe, and global citizenship (with a question mark).

Those interested in the tax and benefits system will find relevant material in most chapters – not surprisingly, given the importance of the term ‘citizen’ to much social policy debate and the connections between the tax and benefits system and so many social policy fields.

Of particular interest will be the material on the relationship between class, poverty, citizenship and welfare to be found in chapter 5. Increasing conditionality in relation to benefits policy was a feature of the last government, and we are waiting to see whether the same will be true of the new one. The chapter contains an informative table of new conditionalities in a variety of social policy fields.

Citizenship suggests universalism, but it also has to cope with difference ( – a theme running through the book), and the final chapter outlines three approaches to the relationship between universalism and difference: a Citizen’s Income, group rights, and differentiated universalism.

The erroneous argument that a Citizen’s Income would be ‘too expensive’ is, as usual, offered without evidence. Similarly, the idea that ‘for some a [Citizen’s Income] is a step too far as everybody, freeloaders included, would be able to claim their citizen’s income’ (p.208) receives a response in terms of a participation income rather than the challenge which it deserves. He does concede that ‘freeloaders already receive means-tested benefits and these benefits actively discourage them from seeking employment: a Citizen’s Income wouldn’t do that’, but it’s encouraging to see a Citizen’s Income taken seriously as the feasible corollary to social citizenship.

Given the importance of a Citizen’s Income and citizenship to each other, a future edition of this excellent book would benefit from an extended and better informed treatment of both Child Benefit and Citizen’s Income, which should be treated together rather than separately as they are in this volume.