Poverty In Britain And The Uk Sociology Essay Example
Poverty In Britain And The Uk Sociology Essay Example

Poverty In Britain And The Uk Sociology Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 16 (4278 words)
  • Published: August 6, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
View Entire Sample
Text preview

The focus of this paper is to examine the factors that contribute to poverty in Britain.

The extensive scope of poverty, diverse thoughts, and societal consequences is a vast topic of discussion. Due to the word limit imposed on this paper, I cannot delve deeply into many aspects. However, I will examine topics such as social class, education, health, and addiction. Additionally, I will explore studies like 'Breadline Britain', research conducted by Rowntrees, and various sociological perspectives on poverty. The purpose of this paper is to address key factors associated with poverty in Britain—one of the world's wealthiest nations. Furthermore, I will analyze official statistics released by the British government to emphasize the magnitude of poverty.

The text discusses the concept of poverty and its definition. It states that poverty can be defined as a lack of resources to obtain basic necessities and parti


cipate in societal activities. This definition is taken from Townsend's study on poverty in the United Kingdom. The paper mentions that there are different ways to measure and quantify poverty, including absolute and relative measures. The House of Commons Committee recognizes three main definitions of poverty: absolute poverty, relative poverty, and social exclusion. Absolute poverty refers to not having enough resources for physical and mental well-being, while relative poverty compares income or resources to the average and focuses on lacking material needs for full participation in everyday life.

The Government uses the term social exclusion to describe a combination of interconnected issues that individuals or countries may face. These issues include unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, inadequate housing, high crime environments, poor health, and family breakdown. The Prime Minister referred to it as "a stenograph

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

label" for these problems.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee

Researcher Peter Townsend suggests that people's needs are determined by the society they live in and can only be understood when compared to others. He defines relative poverty as a situation where individuals or families have resources significantly below what is considered average. This leads them to be excluded from normal customs and activities such as Sunday lunch, fresh produce, vacations, sports activities, birthdays, and Christmas expenses.

According to Townsend, individuals facing financial constraints are classified as living in relative poverty. This situation primarily affects low-paid individuals who are particularly vulnerable. Typically, those earning lower wages experience higher job insecurity and have a lower probability of receiving additional benefits commonly associated with higher-skilled, higher-paid positions.

Income Poverty - Stats and Facts

The term used to describe poverty is income poverty. The government releases an annual report on poverty in the UK called the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) report. The definition of poverty used is simple - it occurs when a household's income falls below 60% of the average income in the UK after accounting for housing costs related to the property concerned.

According to the HBAI report from www.cpag.org.uk, income poverty saw an increase between 2004-2006 but experienced a slight decrease in the subsequent year. However, due to the recent recession in Britain, the latest figures have not been released yet. It is speculated that these figures have risen once again given the current economic climate. As per HBAI, around 13.4 million people or approximately a quarter of all UK households (22%) are classified as 'income poor'. Among this group, over half (53%) consist of individuals with at

least one child, 15% are pensioner households, and 32% are working-age individuals without dependents.

According to HBAI statistics, approximately 70% of these families consist of vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and children who lack internet skills. The rise in poverty must be emphasized. In 1979, reports indicated that 5 million people (9% of the British population) were living in poverty. However, as previously demonstrated in this paper, that number has now increased to 25% of the population. Oxfam also supports this statistic on their website (www.oxfam.org.uk), stating "One in four people - 25% of the population - are living on or below the income support level." Furthermore, it is important to note that the Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) survey does not establish a specific poverty line but rather relies on public perception. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (www.jrf.org.uk), this survey incorporates public opinions instead of judgments from social scientists regarding what necessities all adults and children should be able to afford in life." Using their assessment methods, they found that in 1999,14.5 million people in Britain were living in poverty (Howard).

It is essential to compare the present situation in Britain to the recession that occurred in the 1980s. In that period, poverty surged due to the recession itself, elevated interest rates, and a significant decrease in manufacturing. Additionally, the government executed measures to reduce costs which led to the elimination of many jobs in both public and private sectors. Currently, these significant events are affecting the British economy anew, excluding the rise in interest rates. With a quarter of our population already residing in poverty, one can only speculate about what forthcoming statistics

will reveal.

Poverty - Accounts

According to Mary Liddell, writing in the Guardian (Sunday 29th April 2001), "our child poverty rate is the third highest in the industrialized world." This statistic is alarming and requires immediate attention.

Sociologists have studied poverty extensively, exploring its causes and implications. In addition to Townsend's work, Mack and Lansley (1983, 1990) conducted two studies for a British television program called 'Breadline Britain'. One of their research methods was a survey that aimed to understand the basic necessities needed for an acceptable lifestyle according to people in Britain.

The results of this survey revealed that the public identified 26 key elements necessary for maintaining a reasonable quality of life. Mack and Lansley's research, along with other recent evidence on the poverty crisis, was highlighted in a report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and carried out by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). This report emphasized important issues and presented astonishing statistics and figures.

The study findings revealed that a significant number of individuals faced financial hardships and were unable to afford basic necessities. Specifically, approximately 9.5 million people lacked the means to heat their homes, while 4 million struggled to meet the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, 8 million individuals encountered difficulties in replacing essential household appliances such as refrigerators and freezers.

Moreover, more than one-third of children experienced deprivation in terms of coats, access to social events, computers for education, school supplies, and books. It was evident from the study that poverty disproportionately affected certain groups including the unemployed, low-wage earners, and households with disabilities or elderly members.

Mack and Langely (1985) argued that there should be a 150% increase in

welfare provision to uplift those living in poverty. They also suggested that employed individuals in Britain would support a one penny increase in income tax for the purpose of assisting those facing poverty.JRF emphasized on September 11th, 2000 that society must recognize and address the issues faced by the poor, stating that it is the government's responsibility to do so. In Sue Middleton's analysis from 2000, she found that areas with high poverty rates had specific characteristics such as significant unemployment rates and limited part-time employment opportunities. Single-parent households also struggled financially due to lack of support systems or resources for disabled or sick families. Cultural minorities and large households additionally experienced higher levels of poverty. Middleton highlighted in Britain, children lacked essential resources needed for their well-being and development. According to Marxists, poverty benefits the ruling class by motivating the working class to seek employment out of fear or personal experience of falling into poverty.

Marxists contend that the distribution of wages is unequal, with those who earn less working harder and receiving lower compensation compared to owners. Nonetheless, there are inquiries to be raised concerning this theory and its principles. It fails to elucidate why specific groups are more susceptible. According to Jones and Novak (1999), it is imperative for capitalism to permit and effectively control poverty.

According to their argument, public assistance benefits are not intended to help people escape poverty but rather to support and preserve harmony and the current state of affairs within the capitalist economy. J.C. Kincaid suggests that the low-wage sector plays a vital role in maintaining stability for wages and employment conditions among the working class. Additionally, they assert

that the payment system is purposely structured to create divisions within the working class as providing equal wages for unskilled workers might result in increased unity and awareness of social classes, which could pose a threat to the capitalist class.

According to Kincaid, a government that prioritizes the efficiency of a capitalist economy is unlikely to take effective action in eradicating the low wage sector. Herbert J. Gans asserts that poverty fulfills a purpose for capitalists by driving the poor towards temporary, low-paying jobs. Furthermore, Gans posits that poverty also fosters career opportunities for individuals in the middle class.

According to Holman (1975), poverty provides job opportunities for businesses and professionals who assist the less fortunate or protect society from them. Furthermore, poverty helps maintain the social standing of individuals who are not poor. Holman (1975) also contends that proponents of values such as hard work, thrift, honesty, and monogamy necessitate individuals who can be accused of laziness, recklessness, dishonesty, and promiscuity in order to justify these norms. The presence of a distinct group known as the poor separates them from the rest of society and acts as a cautionary example for those who do not conform to prevailing work and social standards.

The need to encourage others to work in unfavorable and degrading conditions for minimal rewards arises from the plight faced by impoverished individuals, particularly those within cultural minority families. This economic disparity unfairly benefits a select few who possess resources, while simultaneously exploiting and blaming the vulnerable group for societal problems. In 1998, Richard Berthoud conducted a study at Essex University which revealed that 31% of households with African origins were living below the poverty

line. Factors such as male unemployment, limited employment opportunities for females, and large and expanding families accounted for 60% of cultural minority families experiencing poverty. It is worth noting that theories emphasizing individual responsibility for poverty may no longer hold true as they were more prevalent in the nineteenth century.

According to Herbert Spencer (1874), some sociologists believe that poverty is a consequence of an individual's actions. These sociologists claim that those in poverty are lazy and intentionally choose to remain poor. They also oppose government assistance, arguing that it would only encourage laziness. They assert that if state aid were available, individuals would lack motivation to seek employment and lose their initiative.

However, most sociologists disagree with Spencer's theories and argue that poverty is not solely the individual's fault but primarily caused by social factors beyond their control.

Supporters of this theory argue that the poor must take more responsibility for their situation and emphasize their reliance on welfare as a significant barrier. They contend that this cycle of poverty often leads unemployed individuals to perceive themselves as better off without work.

According to Taylor et Al 1995 (pg 182), Conservative governments have implemented policies based on the argument that reducing income tax and certain benefit levels can be influenced by this reasoning. Marshland (1989) argues for minimal provision of the welfare state, advocating it as a last resort. He contends that the welfare state has overshadowed other forms of assistance, such as family and other organizations that enable impoverished individuals to help themselves. Building upon Marsland's theory, Charles Murray introduced the concept of the underclass in his 1984 publication 'loosing land.' This term refers to a class

below what is traditionally considered working class, which he attributes to the existence of the welfare state.

This group of individuals rely on public assistance. Key indicators include household instability, crime, substance abuse, and individuals with a lack of education who choose to leave the workforce. The "New-right" sociologists refer to the work of C Murray (1989) and conclude that the current welfare system produces a subculture of individuals who prefer living on benefits rather than working. It should be noted that these new right theories have had more influence in politics than in sociology. One only needs to look at the recent radical reforms of the benefits system to see the influence of these new right ideas. The lower class theory, along with sensationalist media, has contributed to a "moral panic" regarding single parents.

Oscar Lewis (1959, 1966) conducted a study on the disadvantaged population in Puerto Rico. In this paper, we will focus on comparisons in Britain and the United Kingdom. Lewis argued that poverty had a cultural aspect, stating that those living in poverty had a distinct culture separate from mainstream society. As a result, this group of individuals felt isolated and marginalized from the rest of society. Lewis highlighted that the children he studied were part of an unskilled labor force and experienced unemployment, underemployment, and low wages. Consequently, they faced financial struggles, insufficient food, and lived in overcrowded and impoverished areas (Stephens, 1998, p.

289) Lewis coined the term "design for populating" to describe the phenomenon where people learn to accept poverty because they feel powerless to change it. According to Lewis, they develop self-defeating attitudes and resign themselves to their circumstances, which

prevents them from breaking free.

Cycle of Want

The concept of a "cycle of want" was introduced by Sir Keith Joseph, who served as the Conservative party Secretary of State for Social Services in the 1970s. Joseph argued that poverty wasn't solely caused by a lack of income, but rather by a complex set of interrelated difficulties that some families faced internally. According to Joseph's theory, future generations will experience the same sequence of events. He proposed that children from poor families often marry into families with similar issues, thus perpetuating the cycle of want.

These households typically reside in inner city areas, facing poor housing, inadequate diet, lack of healthcare, underachievement in school, lack of qualifications, and low-paying jobs. As a result, their children grow up in unsatisfactory conditions, are more likely to engage in delinquency, and struggle to find employment. Critics argue that the theory of the poverty cycle has its flaws. Research suggests that children from low-income families can and often do break free from the supposed cycle of poverty. The theory fails to address the root causes of poverty and why some individuals become impoverished in the first place. In 2000, New Labour's Certain Start program was launched as a response to the government's annual report on poverty, which stated the need to "break the cycle of poverty and prevent its transmission across generations." This poverty cycle is detrimental to society as a whole.

However, it is unfairly disadvantageous for children who miss out on opportunities because they inherit the disadvantage faced by their parents. Their life opportunities are determined by where they come from instead of who they are. (Social Exclusion Unit, 2004, pg

According to www.cpag.org.uk, poverty restricts the active social engagement of children and limits activities that would be considered 'the norm'. The study revealed that 18% of households in poverty (HBAI) could not afford to have their children's friends over for lunch once every 14 days. It also showed that 12% of these children were unable to participate in educational school trips and activities due to lack of income. It is necessary to assess how this impacts children and their growth in social capital.

If individuals cannot participate in a productive and positive educational experience, how can they be expected to succeed in academia, the job market, and ultimately become successful members of society?

Poverty and Health

According to Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), a campaign group, there is a strong connection between smoking and poverty. On Monday 9 October 2006, The Guardian published an excerpt in their health section stating that smoking is closely associated with poverty. Derek Wanless, former CEO of NatWest Group and author of a government health trends review, found that 48% of men in the poorest social class die before the age of 70, compared to 22% of men in the wealthiest social class. He estimated that half of this difference can be attributed to smoking. In the Princess ward of Knowsley, Merseyside, which is considered the most disadvantaged area in England, 52% of the population smokes, compared to the national average of 26%. According to Graham (2000), people's lifestyles and behaviors are recognized as factors contributing to health issues.

Smoking is recognized as the primary avoidable cause of premature death and is a habit that is commonly found among the lower class,

both women and men, who are most likely to be impacted by poverty. Other causes of preventable health issues include diet, stress, housing, alcohol and drug abuse, and physical activity (Alderman et al 2000). These factors are often associated with the impoverished members of our society. This paper has already examined studies conducted by JRF, and it asserts that the aforementioned statements only exacerbate their findings.

In April 1977, the Secretary of State formed a 'working group' to investigate health and inequalities. The primary objective of this study was to gather all information related to health within our social class system. In 1980, the Black Report was published to examine the need for the introduction and deductions of social policies, as well as determine if further research was necessary. It emphasized that the causes of health disparities were so deeply ingrained that only significant public expenditure could bring about meaningful change (Jenkin, 1980).

The study revealed significant disparities in mortality rates among different social classes. Rather than narrowing, these disparities were actually widening. It stated that individuals from poor households face lifelong poverty, which includes disadvantages in education, environment, and society. In some cases, this poverty persists across generations. The study also emphasized the high number of young working-class females who suffer from depression, which greatly impacts family life and potentially child-rearing. Additionally, the study found evidence showing that twice as many babies born into unskilled worker families die within the first month compared to babies born to working professionals.

The text states that babies born to unskilled or unemployed parents are three times more likely to die in their first year compared to babies born to professional

working parents. This difference is clearly connected to social class, poverty, education, and health. Alock (2003) argues that the poorest individuals in our country live in poor housing conditions and undesirable locations that do not provide them with easy access to local amenities like parks, gardens, and shopping facilities. They also lack a pollution-free environment. Jones and Pickett (1993) go even further and assert that those in poverty often live in cramped homes without proper insulation, leading to either no heating (resulting in damp conditions) or accumulating debt to heat their homes. It could be argued that poverty leads to increased stress, which in turn contributes to illness and dependence on substances like alcohol or drugs (Jones & Pickett, 1993). Sociologist Nicholas Emler believes that low self-esteem is a risk factor for suicide, depression, and abuse (Palmer et al, 2006).

If an individual is sick, stressed, and living in poor housing conditions, it can be assumed that their self-esteem would be low.

Poverty and Education

Poverty - the facts (2007) illustrates that growing up in poverty can negatively affect a child's cognitive development, as well as their overall health and well-being. According to Poverty - the facts (2007), children born into poverty are more likely to experience issues such as homelessness and chronic overcrowding, which significantly impact their physical, mental, and social development. These problems can lead to health issues and absenteeism from school. Wedderburn (1994) supports the idea that material deprivation plays a major role in a child's underachievement in school.

In addition, a study conducted by Ming Zhang from Cambridge University, who focuses on mandatory instruction, reveals a strong correlation between poverty and truancy among primary

school children. This correlation further exacerbates the educational disparities experienced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Poverty And Gender

In general, women are paid less than men. One possible explanation for this disparity is that women tend to take career breaks to raise children and often return to work part-time. If a relationship breakdown occurs, the woman is usually left with the role of breadwinner and caregiver, which often leads to low-paying part-time employment.

According to Taylor et al, 96% of individuals receiving benefits as single parents are women. David Green, director of the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, emphasizes the importance of having two parents for various outcomes, such as academic success, criminal behavior, and mental health. Over 33% of children in the UK live in single-parent households, mostly headed by women. The Low Pay Unit estimates that more than 70% of individuals earning low wages are female. In a 2009 report for the House of Commons, Ian Townsend states that the North West had the highest number of children in poverty (without considering housing costs), followed by London.

According to the statistics, the number of adults of working age living in poverty (before housing costs) was highest in the North West and London, totaling 0.7 million. These regions were also hotspots for poverty among the elderly population, suggesting that they are among the poorest areas from an official standpoint. There could be various reasons for this, such as densely populated areas or the availability and cost of jobs. Historically, there has been a divide between the North and South of the country, but these

statistics show that this divide does not extend to poverty. Previous assumptions linked poverty to social housing developments, but a study conducted by JRF disputes this notion, stating that home-ownership and poverty have rarely been connected. The prevailing view of home-ownership associates it with wealthier families, but this is only a partial understanding of the diverse housing landscape in the UK.

Using the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey of Britain, a new survey conducted by Roger Burrows at the University of York reveals that half of all individuals living in poverty in Britain today are homeowners. This study suggests that poverty is not a hereditary condition, but rather a circumstance that people can experience due to unemployment, illness, and other factors. Although it is evident that individuals in the working class are more prone to unstable employment and poor health, it is important to acknowledge that poverty can affect any member of society.


This paper has addressed various issues surrounding poverty in contemporary Britain. It has considered perspectives from Marxist and New Right sociologists, as well as analyzed published documents, reports, and research. In exploring aspects such as gender, location, education, health, and ethnicity, the paper aims to comprehensively discuss poverty. It is evident from this research that poverty remains prevalent in today's society, disproportionately impacting low-wage earners, part-time workers, women, families, the elderly, and those who are ill.

Today's Conservative Liberal Dem government has promised to decrease benefits for certain groups of people as a way to motivate them to find paid employment. This article explores the obstacles and limitations faced by these groups. The country is slowly recovering from a recession, and while

there are more job opportunities now compared to before, they are still not readily available. Although I agree that everyone should strive for a decent standard of living, I strongly believe that those facing the greatest challenges in life, such as the ill, single parents, low-paid workers, and families, should receive as much assistance as possible. This assistance should not only be economic but also practical, helping them escape from the cycle of poverty. My research clearly shows that poverty is not equally distributed, and unfortunately, this is likely to remain the case.

I believe that it is crucial to focus on education and support for young people in order to prepare them with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in life. While there will always be disparities between individuals, especially in a wealthy and developed country like ours, it is important to ensure that everyone has access to the tools they need to thrive in today's society. I understand that this perspective may seem idealistic and that there will always be a subgroup of individuals who choose not to conform to traditional employment norms. However, if we can provide assistance to those who aspire to improve their lives, it would be a step towards addressing poverty in our nation. In June 2009, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discussed the issue of poverty in the UK and announced that the government planned to invest ?5 billion in unemployment relief with the aim of reducing child poverty. The current government has committed to continuing the work initiated by the previous Labour government to eliminate child poverty by 2020. However, they have frozen child benefit,

which is a universal benefit for children, and removed it from what they consider to be "wealthier households".

Once again, we can draw comparisons to the authorities of the late 80s who froze child benefit as a cost-cutting measure. This is similar to the actions taken by the current government. "This measure aims to provide equal opportunities for every child. I envision a society where children do not miss out on school trips, do not live in poor housing conditions with limited space for their homework, and are not left behind due to a lack of computer or internet access. This is a significant challenge, and one that we will not avoid. It holds both the current and future governments accountable and prevents any government from softening their stance."

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds