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Assess the argument that rather than eliminating poverty, the Welfare State has created a form of dependency culture.

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Introduction

Assess the argument that rather than eliminating poverty, the Welfare State has created a form of 'dependency culture'. In 1997 when New Labour came to power, approximately fourteen million people in Britain were living in relative poverty (George et al, 1995). Relative poverty occurs when people live below the generally accepted standard of living within a particular society, even though universal basic needs are met. For Britain in 1997, this equated to one quarter of the total population. Consequently, the government set out new policies to tackle the ever growing problem. This essay will look at different theories of poverty and examine whether they help alleviate the problem, or push people further into a culture of dependency. One theory which attempts to understand poverty is that of the Culture of Poverty. The Culture of Poverty links economic deprivation and marginalisation, and the politics and culture of society (Clarke et al, 1994). In other words, people can be poor because of their social exclusion from society. A cultural explanation looks at how health inequalities are rooted in the behaviour and lifestyles of the individual and that those suffering poor health have different attitudes, values and lifestyles which mean they don't look after themselves. Even though these adults know the adverse affects it will have on their health, they continue with this lifestyle because to them it is a way of coping with the everyday stress that living in poverty has on them. Cultural explanations pinpoint the cause of poverty and suggest that the poor are individuals who have been badly socialised that they possess deviant values or they are part of a deviant subculture (Clarke et al, 1994). The Culture of Poverty identifies that the poor have a distinctive set of attitudes, norms and values. These norms are then transmitted to each new generation creating a poverty stricken subculture which is independent of the rest of society. ...read more.

Middle

With these functions in place, it is quite clear how the class division helps the capitalist ideal. However, it is also evident how this would only exacerbate the strains put on the welfare system. When Labour came to power in 1997, Tony Blair declared that it was the aim of his government to be the first generation to end child poverty. For this, they adopted the conventional definition of poverty as living in a household whose income is less than sixty per cent of the median income for the size of the household (Alcock, 2003). However, this definition is very challenging as importance is placed upon the relative change in the incomes of household at the bottom and middle of the income distribution. Even a substantial rise in the incomes of the poorest households will not reduce the numbers in poverty if it is matched or exceeded by the rise in the incomes of the middle income households (Alcock, 2003). However, under the capitalist system, reducing child poverty in this fashion would be near on impossible due to the importance placed on maintaining poverty so as to benefit from a motivated workforce. Another problem that New Labour would encounter through the capitalist mechanic was based on their policy that paid work offers the quickest and surest way out of poverty (Alcock, 2003). This objective intended to reduce the number of children brought up in workless households and to ensure that those who move from welfare to work are financially rewarded (Alcock, 2003). By returning to work, Working Tax Credit would supplement the income of workers which further highlights the dependency on the Welfare State. By offering this extra financial incentive, the capitalist mechanic would lose its influence in manipulating wage demands, with financial incentives put in place to bring wages to an acceptable standard. Not only would they lose control over wage demands, they could also suffer a severe reduction in the motivation of workers due to the Working Tax Credit. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, when the New Deal was introduced, it was phased in alongside other tax and benefit reforms. As a result, the New Deal for Lone Parents was heavily supplemented by increased financial support for child care through the newly introduced tax credits (Ellison et al, 2003). This suggests that those on the programme never left the dependency culture, receiving the same amount of benefit support but through another source indicates that work would not have been a viable option due to the loss of income support. Similarly, Working Families Tax Credit was introduced in 1999, replacing family credit, and intended to help families with children. By 2001, 1.25 million families were in receipt of Working Families Tax Credit, with many regarding it as a key part of the household income. As a result, it was seen to play a big part in reducing child poverty and alleviating the poverty trap faced by some households through its generosity in raising income levels (Ellison et al, 2003). However, it suggests that dependency culture is further extended by topping up wages to an acceptable level for families to live off. In conclusion, it is possible to see how the Welfare State does indeed produce a dependency culture. Government financial incentives apply to more people than ever before, with the social stigma of claiming benefit seemingly eradicated. These new schemes are non judgemental and are provided with the idea of entitlement, causing people to see them as part of a fixed income with their financial habits adjusting to include these benefits. For those in work, the welfare system acts as an income supplement which raises expectations to a level which would not be attainable if benefits were removed. Civitas, an independent think tank, offer the advice that the Welfare State is being used to 'create a grateful yet fearful electorate rather than free thinking individuals', indicating that the dependency culture is a useful tool to abuse for personal gain by the government (www.civitas.co. ...read more.

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