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Outline and assess sociological explanations for the increase in poverty when living standards for the majority of the population are rising.

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Sociology Essay Question: Outline and assess sociological explanations for the increase in poverty when living standards for the majority of the population are rising. During the 19th century it was said to be believed that the poor have only themselves to blame. It was believed that this was the most popular explanation of poverty at the time. Poverty was seen as a result of idleness, drunkenness and moral degeneracy. If people got themselves into, then it was their responsibility to get themselves out of it. The belief that the poor are responsible for helping themselves is still an important part of market liberal thinking about welfare. However, Herbert Spencer argued that any attempt by the state to alleviate poverty would lead to laziness and moral decline. Most sociologists do not accept individualistic explanations of poverty - explanations which see poverty as a result of the behaviour of the individual. They argue that the way in which incomes and other resources are distributed is the result of social factors which are often beyond the control of individuals, especially those who have little power like the poor. Explanations for the existence of poverty in affluent industrial societies like Britain: Dependency theories: the welfare state as the cause of poverty: Market liberal theorists argue that the poor need to take responsibility for their own situation. ...read more.


Social democratic thinkers reject the argument that dependency is created by the welfare state. They believe that the state has a duty to enable vulnerable and dependent groups to participate in society on equal terms with other citizens. The culture of poverty: Culture as the cause of poverty: New Right theories see the underclass as characterised by a way of life and attitudes which create dependency and so prevent the poor from escaping and so prevent the poor from escaping from poverty. This idea of a culture of poverty has its origins in the work of the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis who studied poor communities in Mexico and Puerto Rico in the 1950's and 1960's. Lewis (1968) argued that in Third World societies the poor have a distinctive culture with attitudes, norms and values which duffer from those of the mainstream culture. This culture of poverty includes attitudes of resignation and fatalism which lead the poor to accept their fate then attempting to improve their lot. This can be seen as their failure. The culture of poverty emphasises immediate gratification and a concern with the present. This makes it difficult for poor people to plan or save for the future, join trade unions, political organisations and community groups which might help them to improve their situation. ...read more.


Peter Townsend argues that poverty is closely related to class. The majority of the poor occupy (or have occupied) unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. In his more recent studies, he point to the large numbers of black people and women who suffer from poverty because of the disadvantage they face in the labour market. Marxists argue that poverty in capitalist society can only be understood in terms of economic system. Money is the main motivation for work. Unequal monetary rewards motivate workers to compete for higher wages. And capitalism requires highly motivated workers. Marxists argue that to focus on the poor can divert attention from the real cause of poverty - the social inequality generated by the capitalist system. It follows that any solution to poverty must involve the abolition of capitalism. Critics of Marxists argue that it fails to explain why some groups are prone to poverty than others, for example the particular vulnerability of women and black people. Moreover, writers like Townsend point out that the state can influence the operation of the labour market, often in opposition to capitalist interests. E.g. Employment protection legislation provides workers with protection against unfair dismissal and the equal opportunities Commission attempts to ensure equal pay for women. 1 Saba Hasnain 13PT ...read more.

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