This article explores the intention and effects of New Labour's ‘conditional’ welfare-to-work strategy. Conditionality has been the subject of substantive debate, with New Labour distinguishing its own contractualist welfare reforms from alternative strategies, often associated with ‘punitive’ US workfare. This article assesses whether New Labour's attempt to fashion what is described as ‘reciprocal responsibility’ in welfare arrangements avoided the commonly cited by-products of workfare. To achieve this, evidence is presented from the British Social Attitudes series, which shows a profound hardening of attitudes towards the unemployed. In light of these findings, the evidence supports arguments about the adverse effects that welfare contractualism can have for wider social relations.