This article is concerned with the extent to which systems of public welfare can be said to have reduced or enlarged personal freedom. It looks, first of all, at the kind of arguments which have been advanced both in support of, and against, the notion of ‘the Welfare State’ as a defender or promoter of individual liberty. Secondly, it examines some of the freedoms which are said to have been threatened or enhanced, including ‘freedom of choice’, ‘freedom of disposition’ and ‘freedom of action’. Finally, it argues that many of these are ‘secondary’ freedoms, contingent upon the primary condition of freedom from economic need. Following Roosevelt we conclude that ‘true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence’ and that, although public welfare may have been partly responsible for an overall ‘levelling-up’ of freedoms, the distribution of such freedoms still reflects inequalities of income, status and power.