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Does devolution lead to regional inequalities in welfare activity?

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A recurrent objection to incipient processes of welfare-state devolution is that inducing diversity in welfare activity hampers public service uniformity and opens the door to regional inequalities. However, limited empirical evidence has been reported to back this claim from experiences of welfare-state devolution. I draw upon empirical evidence of three welfare services - namely, healthcare, education, and long-term care in Spain, 1998-2006. I aim to explore whether devolution has shifted the patterns of regional inequalities in welfare activity, and examine the impact of regional economic development and political and fiscal devolution on the observed patterns of inequality in welfare activity. My findings indicate a reduction in regional inequalities in welfare activity after the completion of regional devolution of all three welfare services examined. This was especially noticeable in education but also occurred (less markedly) in health and long-term care. Political devolution was found to be associated with 34% of (the declining of ) inequalities in health care activity, 22% of those in education, and only 4% of disparities in long-term care activity where local authorities have continued to play a heavy role, and inequalities are largely explained by regional differences in tax responsibilities.

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