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The Social Security Act (SSA).

What: The Social Security Act (SSA)  abolished the Supplementary Benefits Commission and placed benefit and welfare state policy within the Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS). The Act (including supplementary amendments and regulations) capped the level of any uprating, abolished the requirement to uprate benefits at all, abolished the earnings-related supplement, cut benefits to strikers and their families, and tightened the qualification criteria for Sickness Benefit entitlement (Mesher, 1981). The measures set maximum entitlements to limit the discretion of Social Security Commissioners and Appeal tribunals. Amendment regulations, a new Handbook, and guidance by the Chief Supplementary Benefit Officer worked to curtail discretion to put a stop to ‘overly generous’ payments. These numerous regulatory updates, amendments, and codes made for what Carol Harlow termed a deliberate obfuscation to cloud controversial clauses (Harlow, 1981).

Why significant: The raft of measures formed a fundamental shift in government welfare practice, as they had done the ‘unthinkable’ by cutting and/or reducing contributory benefits (Mesher, 1981). This paved the way for greater selectivity via means-testing, ensuring that assistance programmes like Supplementary Benefit took on a larger role in welfare state support.


Harlow, C. (1981) ‘Discretion, Social Security and Computers’, The Modern Law Review, 44(5), pp. 546–555.
Mesher, J. (1981) ‘The 1980 Social Security Legislation: The Great Welfare State Chainsaw Massacre?’, British Journal of Law and Society, 8(1), pp. 119–127. doi: 10.2307/1409838.