This paper analyses the social impact of the welfare policies of British government in the 1980s. In the early and mid-1980s existing social divisions deepened: provision aimed specifically at poor minorities was tightly constrained, whereas services used by the mass of the population were little affected by spending cut-backs. The structural pressures on welfare services resulting from demographic and economic factors will abate in the 1990s. However, the ideological attack on the welfare state may gather force because policies currently being enacted or already on the statute book will operate to dismantle the coalitions that have so far supported the bulk of state provision. At the same time reductions in highly visible taxes, the expansion of state subsidized private services and the extension of the apparatus of state control will counterbalance crisis tendencies identified by various writers in the 1970s. The British welfare state is now approaching a crisis of mass social citizenship different in kind from the division between ‘comfortable Britain’ and poor minorities which has characterized the past decade.
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