These approaches argue that people are poor because of some deficiency in themselves or which is passed on in the group to which they belong in society. Within this overall approach to explaining the causes of poverty, we can distinguish approaches which have different emphases. These are:> the underclass> culture of povertyThe UnderclassThis argument was first developed by an American man called Charles Murray who claims that an underclass exists of people who are lazy and make no effort to work or look after themselves. They have come to believe that it is their right to receive benefits from the government and not have to work.
It is important to remember that the underclass refers only to those poor people who make no effort to help themselves. They are also considered ‘economically inactive by some.’ – Murray accepts that there are many poor people who are in this state through no ‘fault’ of their own. Nevertheless, the bulk of poverty is caused by those who do not make the effort to earn a living, and/or squander what they do have.Culture of povertyThe culture of poverty argument was first developed by Oscar Lewis when he studied very poor people in Central America. The values and behaviour (the culture) of these poor people was significantly different from the majority of the population.
Lewis argued that this was because these particular values enabled the very poor to cope with circumstances which would otherwise lead to despair and hopelessness.However, Lewis argues that these very values which help cope with poverty also trap the people in poverty. For example, one of the beliefs of the culture of poverty is to live for today and not to worry about the future. This makes sense – where there is tremendous poverty, no one knows what the future holds. However, it also prevents them planning ahead and perhaps trying to break out of their poverty.Exclusion approachesThe second set of explanations for poverty is based on the idea of exclusion – meaning that the poor are in that situation because they are squeezed out of a decent standard of living by the actions of others.
Another term for this process is marginalisation. Those who lose out – the disabled, older people, women, the ethnic minorities, and of course, children, are all those who have least power in society.MarginalisationAccording to this approach some groups of people lose out in complex industrial societies through no fault of their own. They are the casualties of industrial and social change. The victims include those such as the physically and mentally disabled, lone parents, the less skilled, older people and so on.
It was this explanation for poverty that largely underlay the foundation of the Welfare state.Economic system approachA more radical explanation for the continuation of poverty comes from those who argue that society is a competition between various groups. Power and wealth generally go together, as do poverty and powerlessness. The groups in poverty are largely formed from the powerless, in particular women, children and the ethnic minorities. Low pay and poor state benefits are the results of the fact that to pay more would be harmful to the interests of those who are more affluent.
The poverty trapThe poverty trap occurs where a person or family receives a number of means tested benefits from the state when they are unable to obtain work. If the individual then finds employment, it is probable that the gains in income from that employment may well be lost, because the Department of Social Security (DSS) withdraws some or all of the means tested benefits.Development of the Welfare StateThe term Welfare State refers to a society in which the state actively intervenes to ensure that its citizens have adequate standards of income, housing, education and health services.The origins of the Welfare State go back to the Liberal government of 1908. Booth’s writings and Rowntree’s research on poverty in York influenced the Liberal government to introduce old age pensions.
The most important measure was the introduction of the National Insurance in 1911. This is a scheme in which employers, employees and the state all make contributions to a fund to provide insurance against illness and disablement. By 1914 there were 14 million people contributing to the scheme.Between 1906 and 1919 the Liberals introduced new services in the fields of social security, health, education, housing, employment and the treatment of offenders. Many of these services were then cut back between 1921 and 1939.
In 1945 – 50 the Labour government committed itself to a far wider and more radical reform than the Liberals had attempted. Nobody was to be allowed to live in poverty and everybody was to have proper health care and education regardless of their income. The difference between the Labour version of the Welfare state and the Liberal welfare provisions was that the Welfare State was to be for everybody.Most of the provisions of the Welfare State were based on the recommendation of a committee headed by Lord Beveridge. The scheme introduced the social security system, the comprehensive National Health Service, a free secondary school system, special help for the disabled, provisions for decent housing, state intervention to maintain full employment, and a system of family allowances.Although changes have been introduced in the system since it was initiated between 1945-50, it remains fundamentally the same.
However, from 1979 to 1997 the Conservative government showed that it would like to see the system, partially dismantled in favour of a two-tier scheme. For instance, in the sphere of medicine, it would like to have seen more people paying for private health care whilst only those who could not afford to pay would go to the National Health Service.The reasons why the Labour Government introduced a Welfare State have to be seen against:> The background of twenty hears of mass unemployment before the Second World War, when there was little help given to alleviate poverty.> The previous measures introduced by the Liberal government were found to be totally inadequate.> The wartime destruction of British cities gave the drive for the construction of new, better-built houses in well planned environments.
> There was an overwhelming desire shared by the mass of the British people never to return to pre-war conditions.Advantages of the Welfare State> It has eliminated the worst excesses of poverty> It helps people who through no fault of their own (such as a physical disability) are unable to work, and without financial aid would be reduced to begging or voluntary charity.> It has given everybody access to decent medical treatment> Before the Second World War it was mainly the children of more affluent parents who could receive a secondary school education, as fees were charged. Today education is freely available> It has provided elderly people with an income that allows them to live with some degree of dignity in their old ageDisadvantages of the Welfare StateIn recent years there has been a growth in criticism of the Welfare State.> One group of critics argues that it does not provide enough help for the poor, disabled and elderly. They argue for an extension and a rising of the standards of the Welfare State.
> However, other groups argue that the Welfare State has gone too far and ought to be partially dismantled. They argue that the Welfare State:- Is wasteful: because the Welfare State is universal, that is it gives certain benefits to everybody, for example Child Benefit, many who do not actually need financial help get it. This is seen as a waste of money. These people argue for a more selective provision that is giving to those who can prove they are in need.- Because of the enormous financial cost of the Welfare State the level of benefits is too low.
They argue that by concentrating selectively, the same money could provide better services for fewer people.- The Welfare State is too bureaucratic and impersonal and increasingly controls our lives.- The provision of benefits to all, robs individuals of their desire to look after themselves. They do not have to worry about the future or try very hard to get employment, as they know that the Welfare State will always look after them. This criticism seems rather weak if one looks at the levels of benefit given for unemployed people for instance: they are so low that few people can truly wish to live permanently on them.
– The provision of benefits and health care weakens the family, by taking away its functions. If there was less provisions by the state, families would have to cope and this would in time strengthen the institution of the family.In recent years, this culture of dependency argument has been resurrected by the New Right, who blame the Welfare State for creating a culture of dependency. The ideas of the New Right became visible in the policies of the Thatcher government, and are becoming more popular with the Major government, e.g. the Major government have stopped DSS payments for mortgage interest rates, on mortgage taken out after October 1995.
Previously, this was being paid to individuals who had lost their source of income. This is an attempt to stop individuals from relying on the state when disaster strikes. Rather, individuals are encouraged to take out redundancy insurance cover which will protect them in the interim if this happens. However, it can be argued that women, who lose their source of income as a result of separation or divorce, are likely to be adversely affected by this policy. It is doubtful whether many women, particularly those with dependent children, will be able to meet the expense of their mortgage interest payments. The introduction of this policy could lead to a rise of mortgage repossessions.
In addition, some people who still get their mortgage interest paid are too apprehensive to get a job, because if the job does not work out, then they would be affected by this new government policy. They would have to wait up until nine months before the DSS will start to pay this money. This means that individuals are likely to get into debt and increased poverty. Therefore; the idea that this policy decreases the burden of dependency is flawed.However, according to Marsland, the Welfare State facilitates a culture of dependency, whereby individuals do not want to work because the state provides for their physical needs. However, Marsland does not dispute that welfare payments should be completely scrapped.
Rather he believes that all benefits ought to be means tested and should only be paid to those who can not work, e.g. the sick and the disabled. Those who are capable of work should be left to their own devices.The New Right and Marsland have been criticised however, by Jordan, who claims that the Welfare State has not created a culture of dependency.
Jordan claims that rather, individuals want to work, but too often the wages on offer are so low that individuals are actually better off on benefits.Furthermore, the New Right and Marsland tend to ignore the fact that some welfare benefits are put in place to encourage individuals to work. In Britain, families who earn low income are entitled to Family Credit, which is a top-up benefit. Those who are on this benefit do not have to pay council tax, or prescription and dental charges amongst others. If this benefit did not exist families may be better off on unemployment benefit.Dean and Taylor-Gobby have also criticised the dependency theory.
They argue that the idea that the Welfare State has created a population who are content not to work, is a myth. Dean and Taylor-Gobby carried out an investigation which involved conducting eighty five in depth interviews of benefit claimants. They found that all but four of their sample had not lost the desire to work. However, they did find that some of their sample were reluctant to come off welfare benefits to take low paid work, thus, supporting the work of Jordan. Therefore it can be argued that rather than welfare benefits creating a burden of dependency, it has created a reluctant population of dependants.
In conclusion, it would appear that if sociologists and politicians wish to understand the reasons why individuals do not give up a life on welfare for a job, the world of work needs to be examined. The government however, are doing very little to tempt people back into the workforce, therefore it could be said that the government are somewhat contributing to this dependency. It would then seem that in this instance that the government wants to have its cake and eat it.