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CRITICALLY EXAMINE THE CULTURAL EXPLANATIONS OF POVERTY

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Introduction

CRITICALLY EXAMINE THE CULTURAL EXPLANATIONS OF POVERTY In order to analyse the different cultural explanations of poverty, first we have to understand what poverty is. It can be defined by an absolute or relative definition. In an absolute definition, poverty is the complete lack of essential means to survive, such as food, shelter and clothing. However, in a relative definition, poverty means: "... the lack of resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which the individual belongs" (Townsend, 1979, "Poverty in the United Kingdom", cited in Stephens, 1998, p. 259). Such broad definitions lead to several explanations of poverty. Some are cultural (where the culture or the individual is to blame), others are structural (the blame is on the society, its structures). This essay will only focus on the cultural explanations of poverty, by analysing the culture of poverty, the culture of dependency and the cycle of deprivation. The culture of poverty is one of the cultural explanations and had its origins in the work of the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis, who studied poor communities in Mexico and Puerto Rico in the 1950s and 1960s (Taylor, 1995, p.182). ...read more.

Middle

73). On the other hand, they suggest that this explanation is convenient for those in power, because it puts the blame of poverty on the poor themselves. Another cultural explanation for poverty is the culture of dependency, which began with the politics of the Conservative government (1979-97) of Margaret Thatcher and John Major and was associated with the ideas of the New Right. They claimed that the welfare state was the cause of poverty, leading to a culture of dependency on benefits. Due to the increase of taxes, in order to support the bill of benefits, it discourages the efforts of businessmen to start new companies which would create new jobs. Besides, the welfare state undermines the will to work, providing free healthcare and financial support for those who do not want to work (Moore, 2001, p. 144). David Marsland argues that the welfare "hand-outs" - benefits, encourages people to stay unemployed, discourages self-improvement through education (Haralambos, 2000, p. 318). Marsland believes that benefits should only be awarded to groups/individuals that are really in need, such as the sick and disable, or the people who are unable to help themselves. He is particularly critical of the universal welfare provision (provision for all members of society regardless of whether they are on low or high income). ...read more.

Conclusion

Some of these disadvantages may be the result of children from low income families being "labelled" as a problem". (Taylor, 1995, p. 183). However, Rutter and Madge also point out that half of the children who were born in disadvantaged homes do not repeat the cycle of disadvantage in the next generation. On the other hand, many people who weren't brought up by disadvantaged parents became disadvantaged in some point of their lives. Another criticism is based on the fact that it only explains why poverty continues but not how it first begins (Browne, 1992, p.73). In conclusion, for Oscar Lewis the cause of poverty is the different culture that the poor have, because it leaves them without hope for a better future (fatalism and resignation). Others sociologists argue that it's the dependency on benefits that causes poverty because it discourages people from looking for better alternatives or jobs and keeps the poor dependent on the welfare state. Finally, others suggested that the cycle of deprivation is the cause of poverty because the poverty of parents is passed on to their children (Taylor, 1995, p. 183), creating a cycle of disadvantage. Above all, the different cultural explanations of poverty are all linked and they all blame the poor for their own poverty. ...read more.

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