The subject of income maintenance for those out of work is generally regarded a technical issue to be left to the appropriate official and other experts. In consequence there is little awareness of how the discussion of this issue has become focussed on relatively narrow issues relating to work disincentives and hardship. It has not been recognised that this narrowing has important implications for the ways we perceive and respond, not only to the experience of unemployment, but also to broader issues relating to society, state and the citizen, and to questions of justice, need and desert. This chapter uses the analysis of one particularly influential report on benefits for the unemployed to start to draw out these wider issues in a consideration of the functions that a benefits system might fulfil.