The Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) of the British Government is a recent and innovative response to social problems in the UK. Through an examination of selected publications of the SEU, the article highlights some of the representations of family, work and gender which provide the discursive context in which the SEU operates and to which it, in turn, contributes. The article suggests that perspectives found in the post-1945 welfare state continue to influence approaches to problems of exclusion. Whilst there are areas in which current political thinking shows evidence of sensitivity to the social recomposition that has attended economic restructuring since 1970, it is argued that there remain tendencies within SEU discussions which reinforce a more nostalgic constitution of work, family and gender relations. Consequently, the article concludes that the potential of the social exclusion debate to grasp fundamental issues is yet to be fully realised.