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The Underclass

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									The Underclass

  Neil Reardon – Brynteg Comprehensive School
    Who are the underclass?
• Historically, the underclass are people
  who were seen as below the working
  class, people with low morals and no

• Karl Marx called these people the
  „lumpenproletariat‟ and referred to
  them as „scum‟
       The modern underclass
• There is no agreed definition of who
  this group are.
• Most definitions seem to share the
  following characteristics:
  –   Joblessness by choice
  –   Social exclusion
  –   Benefit dependency
  –   Criminality and fecklessness
         Saunders (1990)
„… a stratum of people who are generally
  poor, unqualified and irregularly or
  never employed. This underclass is
  disproportionately recruited today from
  among Afro-Caribbeans, people living in
  the north, those who are trapped in run-
  down council estates or in single parent
           Runciman 1990
„…those members of British society whose
  roles place them more or less
  permanently at the economic level
  where benefits are paid by the state to
  those unable to participate in the labour
  market at all … they are „the poor‟ of
         The modern debate
• In modern Britain, there are many areas of
  high unemployment, criminality and poverty.
  These are associated with people dependent
  on benefits to survive.

• Murray, an American sociologist says that the
  underclass exist because people have become
  dependent on benefits and have no incentive
  to work.

• Is this analysis a true reflection of British
     Views of the underclass
• Cultural explanations   • Structured views of
  suggest that it is        the underclass
  the failure of            suggest that society
  individuals or whole      itself is flawed. The
  groups in society         government has not
  that creates an           provided adequate
  underclass in society     work.

• Murray                  • Wilson
          Cultural Explanations:
It is the fault of the individuals/groups

“By the time slum children are 6 or 7 they have
usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of
their subculture and are psychologically geared to
take full advantage of any opportunities which may
occur in their lifetime” Oscar Lewis

“The underclass is characterised by family instability,
violent crime, drug abuse, dropping out of employment
and „scrounging‟ off the state”.

                  Charles Murray
        Structured Underclass
• Different from the cultural underclass perspective because it
  blames the inequalities in society, rather than the cultural values
  of the poor.

• The underclass exists because the material resources needed to
  succeed in society are distributed unequally.

• Field (1989) supports this idea because he argues that in times
  of economic recession and failure, there is more evidence of an
  underclass emerging, an example being the end of the Thatcher
Relevant studies to consider
         and quote
      These ideas provide you with
  evidence to support your analysis of
         the underclass debate
      Golding and Middleton
• Newspaper reporting gives rise to the
  notion of underclass.

• Most reports view benefit recipients as
  scroungers who enjoy comfortable life
  styles at the expense of tax-payers.

• This is far from reality for most people
  but is a powerful myth.
    Howard Williamson (1990)
• Studied a group of 16-17 year olds not involved in
  formal employment or education.
• WHY? Unhappy childhood, history of abuse, drug
  misuse and law breaking.

• Not a fixed cultural group as different people had
  differing experiences. Some were entrepreneurial
  and not all offended regularly.
• Most still subscribed to the dominant set of values
  but simply could not get there.
           David Marsland
• Welfare benefits mean people do not need to
  look after themselves.
• People choose to stay unemployed.
• High benefits result in high taxation and
  takes money away from investment in
• People want handouts from the state but they
  should not get them, they should be
  encouraged by poverty to go to work for a
             Rex and Tomlinson (1979).
               The Structural Break.
•   The material disadvantage of the ethnic minorities is so great that it
    actually cuts them off from the White working class group.

•   In terms of ethnic minorities, this separation occurred either as a result of
    direct racism or due to the fact ethnic minorities have the most poorly
    paid, low status jobs.

•   Highlights the point that in capitalist society, the underclass are the
    ultimate victims.


•   Westergaard (1996) has argued that its misleading to see the underclass as
    a distinct group outside of the working class because they face and share
    many of the same problems.
•   Britain as a society guarantees certain benefits to each member, NHS,
    Education, so it is very difficult to accept the concept of a total structural
          Oscar Lewis (1958)
• People who are poor feel marginalised.
• They develop a value system that enables
  them to survive poverty: fatalism, short-term
  thinking, immediate gratification, dishonesty,
  limited participation in social and political life.
• The value system they develop helps them to
  survive poverty, but it keeps them poor
  because they do not develop the social and
  educational skills to escape from their
               Dahrendorf (1987)
• Identifies structural factors such as employment and recession
  but adapts his structural explanation to take cultural factors
  into account.

• He argues that the longer that people remain in the underclass
  the more likely it is that they will assimilate into its cultural

• They will become more dependant on state benefits and
  handouts and slowly lose any discipline or motivation.
                Tom Hall (2003)
• Spent a year studying homeless groups in Southerton to gain an
  insight into their existence.

• On the surface they resembled typical members of the

• Tom Hall argues its misleading to just view these youngsters as
  having the typical cultural values of the underclass because they
  faced many structural constraints such as poor backgrounds and
  lack of confidence.

• They eventually tailor their behaviour to fit their difficult
         Andy Pilkington (2000)
• Many face racial discrimination which forces them into the
  underclass but the idea of an ethnic underclass fails to take into
  account the level of diversity amongst ethnic minorities.

• Pilkington (2003) argues that there is no convincing evidence
  that ethnic minorities possess the cultural values of the
  underclass. Some often have a great deal of cultural capital

• The economic position of most ethnic minorities is improving.

• Only some Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have members of their
  community thought to be possible members of the working class.
      William Wilson (1996)
• The government has failed to generate
  enough jobs for people.
• This leads to social isolation in bad
• Joblessness is a way of life
• This undermines the nuclear family and
  destroys the social fabric of poor
     Assessing and evaluating
       underclass debates
• Why are some sociologists reluctant to
  accept the term?
• Is it better to talk of excluded groups
  rather than an „underclass‟?
• Are the underclass different from the
  ordinary working class?
      Outline and assess sociological theories of the underclass

      A Cultural Problem                       A Structural Problem

Lewis: Culture of poverty              Tom Hall: Homeless in
Murray: Culturally distinct
                                       Williamson: SZY
Marsland: Dependency on
 benefits                              Field: Not one category

                                       Rex and Tomlinson:
                                       Structural Break

      Conclusion: Is there an underclass? If so, which theories
      account for it best?

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