The Liberal Characteristics of the United Kingdom: A Study of Key Attributes

What characteristics make the UK a liberal state?

The UK has several attributes of a liberal state that distinguishes it from authoritarian or totalitarian states.

An important characteristic of a liberal state is the avoidance of conservatism or restrictive attitude in policy making and administration. In the UK, this is evidenced by the fact that the policy is made in a way that reflects the multiplicity of ideas and views that are a part of the UK society (Jones & Norton, 2014).

In the UK, emphasis is on the rights of individuals. This is evidenced by the constitutional law, which recognizes important due process rights for individuals. Liberty of the individual is a residual concept, which means that a person has as much liberty as is not specifically restricted by law.


The UK is a multicultural, multi-layered society, with people of different races, communities and ideologies. True to its liberal traditions, the UK as a state is neutral towards the different groups that are invariably a part of such society (Jones & Norton, 2014, p. 44).

There is a separation of powers in the UK. This means that powers are divided between the three organs of the government: legislature, executive and judiciary. In the UK, the operation of separation of powers is not in the pure sense. However, powers are definitely not centralized in any one organ and there is a system of checks and balances (Jones & Norton, 2014, p. 61).

An attribute of liberal state is that it is reformist in nature. As such, it supports policies of reform that are structured to bring about gradual and sure reform.

What kind of social problems are linked to social policy?

Social policy concerns with the drafting of legislations, rules, guidelines or principles that relate to areas that are directly or indirectly related to welfare, bettering social conditions, or responding to social issues. As such social problems are an intrinsic part of social policy (Spicker, 2014).

The kinds of social problems linked to social policy are of varied nature. Such social problems may be related to education, health, housing and economic security. This may translate to social problems such as certain sections of the society, not being able to partake of education (Spicker, 2014). Health care may be too expensive if left only to private funding. The state may be required to ensure decent and affordable housing to people, due to problems of homelessness and vagrancy. Due to unemployment, there may be people who require welfare support. This may take the form of health care, pensions, social care.

Social problems may be of such a nature or magnitude that they would require a legislative response. This is seen in the area of criminal justice, where newer forms of crimes are observed in the society. In particular, the internet has brought its share of social problems, such as cyber bullying. These problems need a criminal justice oriented social policy.

William Beveridge, the chief architect of the British welfare state, had identified some of the major problems in: poverty, ill-health, poor housing, insufficient education and unemployment (the five giants) (Blakemore & Warwick-Booth, 2013). These social problems have been the subject matter of much reform in the UK. Welfare laws have come to be recognized as important policy matters in the UK for the purpose of challenging and correcting social problems.

How does neo liberalism effect welfare?

Neo-liberalism is rooted in the classical political economy theory, which emphasizes free markets, free competition and free enterprise. The focus in on the freedom of people from any interference or influence by the state (Plant, 2009).

Neoliberalism impacts welfare adversely, because its focus is on freeing the individual from the interference of states and creating an economy which is based on the principles of liberalization. In the UK, the reduction in welfare policies was seen during the government of Margaret Thatcher, who pushed for liberalization and restructuring of state sectors. Recently, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced benefit cuts which were earlier allowed. Some of the key changes brought about by the law is in the housing benefits ( National Housing Federation, 2012). Another feature of the law, which relates to neo liberal ideology is the introduction of the Universal Credit, which replaces six earlier given benefits.

One impact of neo liberalism on the welfare state is that there is a diminished responsibility of the state to make welfare provisions in social policy. This is in keeping with the neo liberalism ideas of downsizing the state’s role in an individual’s life. Welfare policies are made by the state for social as well as individual benefit. Neoliberalism emphasizes on devolution and privatization. This subjects even the concept of welfare to the logic of the market (Plant, 2009). This has been seen in the UK, especially in the period between 1971 to 1991, when many welfare policies were rolled back by the Conservative government. Instead there was more focus on privatization, as seen in the privatization of pension schemes, which were earlier in the domain of government.

Towards Traditional Parliamentary Sovereignty

The EU Referendum 2016, also called as Brexit, is a turning point of sorts. The British people have by majority chosen for the UK to exit the EU. Commentators are saying that a reason for pro Brexit votes is the desire to reclaim the traditional British parliamentary sovereignty.

What are the key features of rational and incremental policy making?

The key feature of rational policy making process is that it is scientifically structured. This process is based on the on the model of reasoning that is used by economists, mathematicians, and psychologists. It is structured in a way that there are certain assumptions that are made at the beginning of the process. First, it is assumed that the policy maker has identified the problem. Moreover, the goals, values, and objectives are clear (John, 2012). Alternative ways of addressing the problem are considered, that the cost and benefits or advantages and disadvantages of each alternative are investigated. It is assumed that the policy maker will compare the alternatives available to him, and finally choose the one most concomitant with the decided goals, values, and objectives.

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Incremental process of policy making, which is associated with the ideas of Charles Lindblom, is not as regimented and scientifically applied as the rational process. Incremental theory does not presume that the policy maker would have identified the problems, selected the goals and objectives (Fox, Bayat, & Ferreira, 2006). Rather, they believe that these areas are intertwined with the scientific analysis of the problem. Decision makers do not remake policy every time; they sometimes only refashion existing policy. When doing so, they consider alternatives for dealing with a problem that differs incrementally from existing policies. Focus is on important consequences of the alternatives and finding agreement on the course of action to pursue.

Continue your journey with our comprehensive guide to The Influential Role Multinational Companies Have in National as well as Global Politics.


  • TPlant, R. (2009). The Neo Liberal State. Oxford: OUP.
  • Spicker, P. (2014). Social Policy: Theory and Practice. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Blakemore, K., & Warwick-Booth, L. (2013). Social Policy: An Introduction. Berkshire: Open University Press.
  • National Housing Federation. (2012, March). Welfare Reform Act 2012: key issues. Retrieved from
  • Jones, B., & Norton, P. (2014). Politics UK. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Fox, W., Bayat, S., & Ferreira, N. (2006). A Guide to Managing Public Policy . Cape Town: Juta and Company.
  • John, P. (2012). Analyzing Public Policy. Oxon: Routledge.

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