Social Policy and Administration 48(7) pp 757-781
Welfare state theory has struggled to come to terms with the role of the third sector. It has often categorized welfare states in terms of the pattern of interplay between state social policies and the structure of the labour market. Moreover, it has frequently offered an exclusive focus on state policy – thereby failing to substantially recognize the role of the formally organized third sector. This study offers a corrective view. Against the backdrop of the international shift to multi-level governance, it analyses the policy discourse of third sector involvement in welfare governance following devolution in the UK. It reveals the changing and contrasting ways in which post-devolution territorial politics envisions the sector’s role as a welfare provider. The mixed methods analysis compares policy framing and the structural narratives associated with the development of the third sector across the four constituent polities of the UK since 1998. The findings reveal how devolution has introduced a new spatial policy dynamic. Whilst there are elements of continuity between polities – such as the increasing salience of the third sector in welfare provision – policy narratives also provide evidence of the territorialization of third sector policy. From a methodological standpoint, this underlines the distinctive and complementary role discourse-based analysis can play in understanding contemporary patterns and processes shaping welfare governance.