Objectives: To aid public health policy in preventing severe social exclusion (like homelessness) and promoting social inclusion (like labour market participation), we aimed to quantify (unmet) health needs of an expectedly vulnerable population on which little was known about: single male welfare recipients (SIM-welfare). One of the main policy questions was: is there need to promote access to healthcare for this specific group? Design: A cross-sectional study incorporating peer-to-peer methodology to approach and survey SIM-welfare. Sociodemographics, prevalence of ill health, harmful drug use and healthcare utilisation for subgroups of SIM-welfare assessed with a different distance to the labour market and exposed to different reintegration policy were described and compared against single employed men (SIM-work). Setting: Men between the age of 23 and 64, living in single person households in Amsterdam. Participants: A random and representative sample of 472 SIM-welfare was surveyed during 2009-2010. A reference sample of 212 SIM-work was taken from the 2008 Amsterdam Health Survey. Outcome measures: Standardised instruments were used to assess self-reported ill somatic and mental health, harmful drug use and service use. Results: SIM-welfare are mostly long-term jobless, low educated, older men; 70% are excluded from reemployment policy due to multiple personal barriers. Health: 50% anxiety and depression; 47% harmful drug use; 41% multiple somatic illnesses. Health differences compared with SIM-work: (1) controlled for background characteristics, SIM-welfare report more mental (OR 4.0; 95% CI 2.1 to 4.7) and somatic illnesses (OR 3.1; 95% CI 2.7 to 6.0); (2) SIM-welfare assessed with the largest distance to the labour market report most combined health problems. Controlled for ill health, SIM-welfare are more likely to have service contacts than SIM-work. Conclusions: SIM-welfare form a selection of men with disadvantaged human capital and health. Findings do not support a need to improve access to healthcare. The stratification of welfare clients distinguishes between health needs.