Poverty, unemployment and welfare
Norman Rose: Recruitment Society “There is an element of snobbery which says, ‘I’ve got these qualifications, I’m too good’, “People think because they have a degree or a qualification they should not go for anything other than their line of expertise.”
Itâ€™s August 2015 You have graduated, but are still unemployed Would you work at Poundland?
Returning to class and stratification
Poverty as a social division
Unemployment, structure and agency
From welfare to workfare
Last Time in Social Divisions
This module focuses on the distinction between social differences and divisions and considers responses to these divisions
In this lecture we examine unemployment and poverty as a specific mode of division
In addition, we consider changes in the welfare state and ideology as a response to this division
The primary sociological mode for understanding stratification is class
Why care about social divisions?
If society is not completely equal and people are not all the same…
…and we see that there are patterns in these inequalities and differences
Then we are interested in understanding these patterns and why they occur
This is not a question of what should be (or what could be), but what is and why
Sociologists argue that individual explanations are inadequate – crime is not just caused by individuals from one particular grouping being ‘bad’ or unlucky
Whilst individuals have the capacity for agency, social structures create social patterns
Today’s Key Questions
What do we mean by class and how does this relate to stratification?
Why are some people unemployed and what should be done about it?
How have our reactions to poverty, unemployment and welfare changed?
How do different conceptions of class understand these conditions and changes?
Returning to class
Class is at the core of sociological explanations of social stratification
Class is regarded as a structural influence that produces social patterns and influences human behaviour
It is often considered to be the most important social division because of its affect on our life chances
However, there is considerable debate around class, primarily - Is class determined by economic (production) or cultural (consumption) differences?
Class: Competing Definitions
Giddens (2013, p.485) “Although is a contested concept, a general definition is that a class is a large scale grouping of people who share common economic resources, which strongly influence the type of lifestyle they are able to lead”
Kate Fox, Watching the English (2005, p.82) “class in England has nothing to do with money, and very little to do with occupation”
Weber and SES
Max Weber argued that class was constructed of three elements:
Power or authority
A similar division is used officially: ‘Socio-economic status’
Is class cultural or economic?
Class as Division and as Identity
Marx and Weber argued that class is a form of social division whereby stratification occurred because of injustices within social structures
Cultural notions of class do not carry the same kind of antagonism, and tend to soften our sense of injustice by offering a point of identification as a point of social difference
Conversely, these class identities can become a dividing factor
Of particular concern is the development of an ‘underclass’ in contrast to the ubiquitous middle class
â€˘ There are differences and divisions between individuals within society â€˘ Definitions of class provide an explanation of why stratification occurs
Poverty as division
Poverty returns us to key questions of structure vs. agency: Are
people poor/unemployed because of ‘personal characteristics’, or structural issues?
it is structural, is it ‘institutional’ or ‘cultural’?
Our answers to these questions influence our responses, particularly in political decisions
Poverty in Britain
Absolute poverty, living at subsidence level, is extremely rare in modern Britain
Relative poverty is measured by deprivation relative to a particular society
The poverty line is set at living below 60% of the national median income
Relative poverty or ‘living below the poverty’ line does occur: officially 42% of children live below this line in Tower Hamlets
Is the poverty line an effective measurement for representing economic stratification?
Sociology and Poverty ď‚¨
Poverty is not simply a social division in itself e.g. That some people have more money than others
Poverty has a significant effect on life chances, including health outcomes, lack of access to services and educational achievements
More significantly, being born into poverty has substantial effect on the life chances of the poor
Why does child poverty impact on social mobility?
Changes in employment status are a significant factor in determining poverty
Unemployment is a specifically capitalist concept – it relies on the possibility of selling labour to be employed
Measuring unemployment is highly political as a large proportion of the population is not employed but not ‘unemployed’
To be unemployed means you have to be ‘actively’ looking for work
Inequalities in employment status affect some groups far more than others
One particularly concerning category is ‘NEETS’, or not in employment, education or in training (aged from 16 to 24)
1.09 million, or 15% those 16-24 in the UK, are NEETS
About half were looking for jobs and unemployed, others were economically ‘inactive’
Youth unemployment has become a matter of global concern
Spain 56% Greece 65% Egypt 77% Somali 75%
Do you worry about being unemployed? What are the main causes of unemployment?
Where have all jobs gone?
Manufacturing employment in the UK has fallen from 7 million in 1979 to 2.83 in 2009 (Chavs, 2012, p.35).
This trend has occurred across the Western world as both ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ economies restructured to take advantage of cheaper labour costs
These shifts have had a significant impact on the working classes and our perception of them
The end of the working class?
Rapidly decreases in traditional working class jobs has weakened identifications with ‘working-class culture’
The security of these roles has been replaced by lowerpaid and status roles in the service industry
These roles are often more ‘feminine’ and discourage working class solidarity
Retail, call centres and care roles
These changes have led to a shift in the way we understand class structures and understand poverty
There is stratification of individuals and groups in Britain is relation to wealth and employment status
Class is a way of understanding this stratification
Why, and how, does class help us to understand it?
Class and Poverty
Our understanding of poverty is often dependent upon our understanding of class
For Marx, poverty and inequality was the natural state
Cultural theorists of class have come to suggest that class is a behaviour and is somewhat independent of poverty
The decoupling of class and economics tends to lead towards an individualist approach to stratification
Outside of the Socially Mobile
Rather than blame the system, individualistic approaches insist on the agency of the poor
Class is not fixed, but is chosen: we have the capacity to change our approach to stratification
If economic inequality exists, it is justified as long as there is social mobility between class groupings A
functionalist and neo-liberal perspective
(un)Deserving poor â€œIt's not PC to say it but there are 'undeserving poor'. There are people who abuse the system, sub-let their Council houses, claim benefits they are not entitled to, won't work because they are too lazy, have plenty money to cover all their needs or are plain criminals. They get the 'deserving' poor a bad name. But they are protected as much as the deserving poor - because nobody has called them out. They skew the statistics; they make the budgets bigger; they are having a laugh frankly, at all our expense, but mostly at the expense of those who can least afford it.â€? Mary Roche, 2009, Councillor, Waterford Council
The agency approach came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s as Western welfare states came under pressure
Governments and populist ideology came to focus on the ‘lifestyles’ of the poor
Charles Murray (1984) argued that a dependency culture had developed whereby state support creates a subculture defined by a lack of personal ambition
This idea has become particularly popular with the conservative popular press in Britain
A dependent sub-class?
Beyond (or because of) the press, there has emerged a strong ideological belief that a culture has developed whereby people ‘choose’ a life of crime, welfare and illegitimate ‘breeding’
Alternatively, it is argued that a structural ‘poverty trap’ reproduces underclass conditions and excludes people from society
In each sense there is a large and social excluded grouping with little social mobility, what changes is the sociological explanations and political responses
See: Prideaux SJ (2010). The welfare politics of Charles Murray are alive and well in the UK International Journal of Social Welfare 19: 293–302 Wiggan, J (2013)Telling stories of 21st century welfare: The UK Coalition government and the neo-liberal discourse of worklessness and dependency. Critical Social Policy. 32, 3. 383-405. .
Social exclusion emerged in Britain with ‘New Labour’ in 1997
Social exclusion was used to explain a range of factors, particularly crime, welfare dependency and unemployment
The use of ‘exclusion’ implies that those ‘included’ within the system have an equal chance to succeed
Because there is nothing fundamentally unjust about the system, the focus must be on removing social obstacles to progress and improving personal responsibility
Improving Social Responsibility
The rhetoric of social exclusion is particularly strong in two elements of contemporary British culture: Educational
reform Welfare reform
In both cases the focus is on changing the system to change the capacity of individuals against a ‘failed’ system that creates dependency
Are people socially excluded, or do they exclude themselves?
A common name that has emerged for the ‘undeserving poor’ is ‘Chav’
Owen Jones (2010) has argued that Chav has become a point of hatred for the upper and middle class
Moreover, he argues that class is the only cultural characteristic that can be openly mocked
Jones suggests that this resentment is a continuation of the traditional mocking of the poor by the upper class
White, working class and excluded?
A large focus of resentment of the underclass has been the identification of ‘racist’ tendencies amongst white working class populations
This has been represented in the rise of anti-immigrant political parties
Right-wing parties across the Western world now often enjoy the support of the working class, despite acting against their apparent economic interests
Jones argues that this is because of the failure of the Left to represent the working class, which then turns against itself
The working class attacking immigrants, who are their fellow workers
Why might â€˜Chavsâ€™ attract such negative emotions and what does this say about our understanding of class divisions?
The Welfare State
State welfare systems emerged in the 20th century as systemised way of responding to poverty and meeting the basic needs of citizens
The welfare state is a redistribution of wealth to the poorest and is at the core of taxation debates
For Marx the welfare state was necessary to maintain the capitalist system (such as the ‘Poor Laws’ in England in 1601)
Welfare states also fit into modernist ideals of progress and the ‘decent society’ and sat within a widespread expansion of the state
Help and Injustice
There are two defining assumptions of the welfare state:
That our economic structures have a tendency to exclude some people, who will need help to survive and re-enter society;
That society as a whole has a responsibility towards these people.
The latter can be for social stability or social justice
Universal Benefits ď‚¨
One of the key debates is whether welfare should be universal or dependent upon social position
Moreover, should the provision of welfare come with conditions (for the tax payer)?
From Welfare to Workfare
In order to tackle perceived of a growing dependency culture, welfare systems in the west have increased moved to ‘workfare’
Workfare systems emphasis personal responsibility and ‘making work pay’
‘Positive welfare’ and ‘rights and responsibilities’
The assumption is that individuals are rational and will choose not to work if welfare benefits are sufficient
Blaming the Poor
There have been a number of recent changes in the British welfare state:
A ‘universal credit’ replaces six different income-related benefits
Capping total benefits at $26,000 per year (the median household income)
The ‘Bedroom tax’
Benefit restrictions (being forced to accept job offers)
Do you agree?
Stratification and exclusion is not simply a matter of economics
In the next few weeks we shall consider the impact of other factors, principally gender and ethnicity
The interaction of these factors is called ‘intersectionality’
What are the primary causes of unemployment in the UK and what should be done about them?
Next Week Check your Privilege From elitism to equality READING
Stanworth, P. (2006) Elites. In Payne, G. (2006) Social Divisions (2nd Ed.), Basingstoke: Macmillan.
The essay options are now available on BBL
Each option covers a few different lectures
Choose one of these options and write 3,000 words
The essay date is yet to be confirmed