While debate on how best to pay for social care in England continues, information about public attitudes on this issue is limited. We asked representative samples of the public whether care costs for older people should be met by the state, met by the service user or shared between state and user. We used an online survey of people aged 18–75 (n = 3,000) and interview survey of people aged 65 and over (n = 466). Respondents were given four vignettes (two home care, two residential care) and asked who should pay at different levels of user resources; and how much users should contribute when costs were shared. Fewer than one-fifth of the online sample and one-quarter of the interview sample considered that the state should meet the full costs whatever users’ resources; considerably lower proportions believed that users should meet the full costs in all cases. Two-thirds of the online sample and half the interview sample thought costs should be shared. The proportion of costs that users should contribute was relatively low (20–50 per cent, varying by user resources). The study illustrates that public views elicited through vignettes can provide evidence to inform policy on social care funding.