The welfare regime concept introduced by Gøsta Esping-Andersen in 1990 is still widely used in comparative political research, although it has been challenged extensively both on empirical and analytical grounds. Besides the fact that many empirical welfare states seem to be hybrid cases of the established welfare regime categories, the argument that welfare regimes exist not only at the country level but also at the local level and at the level of particular welfare programmes has recently gained momentum in the academic literature. In this article, it is argued that the welfare regime concept should be stripped of its historical-geographical connotations and turned into an ideal-typical approach. To this end, a three-dimensional model is proposed here that allows for analyzing the attributes of welfare states, welfare regions and welfare programmes on three analytical dimensions: welfare culture, welfare institutions and socio-structural effects. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.