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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.”

It’s August 2015 You have graduated, but are still unemployed Would you work at Poundland?

Today 

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

Sociological Insights 

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 Structures 

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: 

Economic inequality

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


• There are differences and divisions between individuals within society • 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?

 If

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 

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?


Unemployment 

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

Our Progress 

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 “It'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.� Mary Roche, 2009, Councillor, Waterford Council

Dependency Culture 

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 

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?

Chav Hatred 

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 ‘Chavs’ 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 

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?

Intersectionality 

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.

Essay Options 

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

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