This contribution argues that neither the self-interest framework, nor theories about cultural dispositions are sufficient to fully explain why socio-economically vulnerable groups express more criticism on the welfare state. We highlight the importance of social experiences as a source of this discontent with the functioning of the welfare state. First, this dissatisfaction is embedded in a broader welfare populism that pits the hard-working people against the deceitful elite and welfare abusers. Second, we argue that welfare populism arises as a result of experiences of resentment that are the result of the restructuring of relative group positions. We differentiate between four types of discontent: economic insecurity, relative deprivation, social distrust and powerlessness. Using structural equation modelling, we test whether these experiences mediate the relationship between the social structure and welfare state criticism. The results indicate that relative deprivation consistently leads to more economic and moral criticism, and lowers perceptions of the positive social consequences. Social distrust, moreover, stimulates a higher level of moral criticism. This study illustrates that resentment can partly explain the paradoxical findings on the relationship between social class and welfare state criticism.