This article uses deliberative forums to examine attitudes to UK welfare futures. It makes methodological, empirical and theoretical contributions to the field. We demonstrate the value of the approach, provide insights into attitudes, in particular about priorities and how people link ideas together, and show how the UK’s neoliberal market-centredness fits with enthusiasm for state healthcare and pensions, desire to close national labour markets to immigrants and approval of government interventions to expand opportunities for those who make the effort. Findings point to the strength of the work ethic and individual responsibility alongside a regret that major and highly valued state services appear unsustainable, the construction of immigrants as simultaneously a burden on provision and unfair labour-market competitors, and backing for the development of a ‘new risk’ welfare state through social investment. The study reveals the complexity of responses to current challenges in an increasingly liberal-leaning welfare state.