VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 25(3) pp 585-611

Electoral politics is a decisive formative and programmatic phase in the development of mixed economy approaches to social protection. This study examines the main issues and policy formulation concerning the role of the third sector in social protection in the manifestos of British political parties in the context of the Westminster elections and at regional level from 1945 to 2011. The results reveal significantly increased evidence in recent decades. Pluralism in social protection, i.e. the system in which voluntary organisations play a complementary role to State and private services, is proving to be the dominant approach, both at national and regional level. However, electoral data also reveal contrasts between parties and between political organizations in the definition of policies. These findings are important for contemporary understanding of mixed economy approaches to social protection as they show that electoral discourse can lead to policy divergences in multi-level systems. The result is different policy solutions for the third sector that (re-)define governance practices and underpin the rise and territorialisation of social protection pluralism. This then raises questions about policy coordination and the differences in social rights in the unitary state.