The ‘new politics of the welfare state’ is a term coined by Paul Pierson to differentiate between the popular politics of welfare expansion and the unpopular politics of retrenchment. 1 In contrast to the distributive and legitimising politics of welfare state enlargement, in the current era of austerity political leaders are sandwiched between economic and demographic pressures threatening the foundations of their post-industrial welfare states and broad public support for social programmes, entrenched interests and sticky, path-dependent institutions. 2 Forced to govern under conditions of continuous constraint, leaders are impelled to reformulate their costly and inefficient welfare states while minimising the risks of electoral defeat. The new politics, therefore, is primarily one of blame-avoidance. 3 This is a particularly arduous challenge in that electorates punish losses more readily than they reward gains. 4 They are both more attuned and more reactive to the costs of cuts. Focusing on the power of entrenched interests, Pierson draws on the ‘logic of collective action’ to explain the inherent dangers of withdrawing resources: losers incur clear, high, concentrated costs, while winners receive unclear, small, thinly spread benefits. 5