Dr Ursula Hackett

Personal profile

I am a Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, a post I hold in conjunction with a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship on the politics of vouchers: programmes that transform the state by delegating responsibility for core policy functions to private actors. A former PPE-ist, between 2013 and 2016 I was based at the University of Oxford as Junior Research Fellow in US Politics. My research focuses on American Political Development (APD), public policy, federalism, education, and religion and politics. In September 2016 I launched a new course in APD at Royal Holloway.

My British Academy-funded book project – Vouchers and the State – presents the first comprehensive scholarly treatment of the politics of vouchers in education, housing and health care in America. Vouchers deliver a sum of public money to individuals for the purchase of services in private markets that might otherwise be provided by government direct. Drawing upon literatures on public policy, federalism and delegated governance I examine the conditions under which policymakers adopt or reject voucher schemes, why and how coalitions advancing vouchers form and the factors affecting the durability of voucher schemes. I argue that voucher politics represents a new stage in the state’s development as it retreats from responsibility for key social policies. The book broadens the scope of my research to the three central pillars of social policy – education, housing and health – to illuminate the contours of the American state.
By delegating responsibility for core policy functions to private actors, voucher programmes are transforming the state: shifting risk, attenuating chains of accountability and energising organised interests. As western democracies confront the challenge of providing healthcare, housing and education for an increasingly demanding, mobile and ageing population, voucher schemes that promote individual choice and elevate the role of the market are not only of academic interest but a vital study for all policymakers and observers concerned with the mechanisms of public policy implementation and patterns of support for them.

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