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Sociology of Poverty in Britain

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Sociology of Poverty in Britain a) Using the information in item A, identify two trends in the growth of poverty amongst British households in the 1980's and 1990's. The report, Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, shows that the proportion of households living in poverty rose from 14 to 24 % between 1983 and 1999. This indicates a significant increase in the phenomenon of poverty throughout Britain as a whole. In 1999 almost a quarter of households were experiencing poverty in Britain compared to less than a sixth in 1983. However, the growth of poverty was most rapid in the 1980s when 1% of households became 'poor' each year. During the 1990s this figure fell to 0.3% a year. This statistic suggests that although poverty is continuing to rise the trend is heading towards a plateau or 'critical mass' of poverty. i.e. if trends continue the rate of poverty will cease to increase and a consistent proportion of the population will experience poverty each year. b) Using the data in Item B, identify two main changes in the percentage share of the national income between 1979 and 1995. Data such as the Family Expenditure Survey demonstrate trends in the proportions of population situated in each income distribution decile. Item B shows that those in the top decile (defined in 1997 by Goodman, Webb and Johnson as: a single person earning �22,000 per annum; a couple with children with a gross income of �50,000; or a childless couple earning �17,000 each per annum) held 21% of the national income. ...read more.


Pete Alcock adds that ethnic groups are just as likely to experience social deprivation as material deprivation, particularly due to the enduring racism of lower socio-economic groups. The disabled present the final group vulnerable to poverty, again this is likely to be a result of their low earning power. Oppenheim and Harker argue that they 'face the risks of poverty because of inadequate benefits'. Consistently, research into poverty has displayed that state supplements and income support given to all groups vulnerable to poverty are not sufficient to lift them out of it. The conclusion appears to be that the only way to avoid poverty is via full time access to the labour market. However, this is refuted by the growth of self employed individuals experiencing poverty (27% in 1992). This group has grown in prominence due to economic backlash during the late 80s and early 90s, leaving any unemployed but lacking the skills to make a success of their own businesses. Still, it is clear that certain groups are more vulnerable to poverty than others most noticeably the unemployed. e) Outline and assess the major sociological explanations for the increase in poverty when living standards for the majority are rising. The three major explanations for the increase in poverty are: cultural, e.g. Oscar Lewis's observation of South American peasant cultures; individual, for example the 'Dependency culture' (Murray [1994], Marsland [1989] ); and structural theories such as Marxism and functionalism. The earlier, individualistic theories of poverty inevitably placed the blame on the poor themselves. Neither society, or societal groups were held accountable, the poor were poor because they were unable or unwilling to provide adequately for their own well being. ...read more.


Westergaard and Resler claim that by focusing on the desperately poor the elite attempts to 'divert attention from the larger structure of inequality in which poverty is embedded'. The poor are merely the most disadvantaged stratum of the working class which as a whole is exploited. As economic growth has continued throughout recent decades little filters through to the working class as a whole due to the capitalist greed of the economic elite. According to Kincaid 'the low wage sector helps to underpin and stablise the whole structure' and yet the poor reap no benefits. Obviously, this stabilization is merely used to further increase the privilege of the bourgeoisie at the expense of the masses who are essential to the system as a whole. Though living standards on the whole increase, so to does inequality. Whilst the poorest sections of society may be placated by the economic ability to purchase DVD's and Digital television, the upper classes grow fatter and fatter with the wealth they have exploited. Clearly, functionalists would dispute these Marxist claims. For example, Parson and his contemporaries explain such inequality as the result of the weighted uses of those in society. An unskilled worker is no where near as necessary as a brain surgeon with years of training. Similarly the unskilled worker greatly out numbers the brain surgeon, it would therefore be dysfunctional to provide both with the same proportion of national income. Morally each individual has equal worth but functionally this is not the case and economic distribution represents this. Inequality is an inevitable social phenomenon, if the poor seek to align themselves in terms of skills and values then they would be able to experience the gains of the majority. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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