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Keywords:

  • poverty;
  • solidarity;
  • welfare;
  • targeting;
  • universalism;
  • reciprocity

Reporting on our recent book, The Solidarity Society, this article explores the way in which the design of welfare programmes interacts with and shapes the underlying quality of social relations between members of society—and, through this, public attitudes to welfare. Given that sustaining generous welfare over long timescales requires the support of electorates, this ‘relational’ dimension of welfare policy is crucial for the long-term strategy of tackling poverty and inequality. The article looks in particular at the ‘welfare dilemmas’ that can arise from tensions between targeting and universalism and between need and entitlement, where the distributional and relational elements of welfare policy work against one another. We conclude that entrenching a generous welfare settlement will require strong elements of both universalism and reciprocity in the design of welfare.