Informed by moral economy theories, this article presents a qualitative study of the normative construction of and contestation over a new in-work benefit in Hong Kong, the Low-income Working Family Allowance (LIFA). Using a policy stakeholder approach to examining the public’s ideas and justifications of LIFA, the findings reveal the eligibility-defined entitlement shared by claimants, scepticism towards long working hours conditionality required by LIFA, complex understanding of deservingness and self-reliance, and dissatisfaction with the closing gap between welfare and wages. This article connects moral economy theories to the normative basis of a social security system, offering insights for capturing the dynamics of consensus and controversies about social welfare. It also extends the research on morality and social welfare from Western countries to an Asian context. The case of Hong Kong evidences how policy stakeholders make moral sense of a new welfare in the absence of social right language.