A growing body of research attests to the impact of welfare regimes on health and health equity. However, the mechanisms that link different kinds of welfare entitlement to health outcomes are less well understood. This study analysed the accounts of 29 older adults in England to delineate how the form of entitlement to welfare and other resources (specifically, whether this was understood as a universal entitlement or as targeted to those in need) impacts on the determinants of health. Mechanisms directly affecting access to material resources (through deterring uptake of benefits) have been well documented, but those that operate through psychosocial and more structural pathways less so, in part because they are more challenging to identify. Entitlement that was understood collectively, or as arising from financial or other contributions to a social body, had positive impacts on wellbeing beyond material gains, including facilitating access to important health determinants: social contact, recognition and integration. Entitlement understood as targeted in terms of individualised concepts of need or vulnerability deterred access to material resources, but also fostered debate about legitimacy, thus contributing to negative impacts on individual wellbeing and the public health through the erosion of social integration. This has important implications for both policy and evaluation. Calls to target welfare benefits at those in most need emphasise direct material pathways to health impact. We suggest a model for considering policy change and evaluation which also takes into account how psychosocial and structural pathways are affected by the nature of entitlement.