Underclass

The notion of the ‘underclass’ is not a recent phenomenon, although some believe that over the last decade, it has grown to a point where it is now considered by some as a major part and problem within British society. Definitions of ‘underclass’ have varied, especially when consulting government speak. Indeed liberals are not fond of the term and would rather replace it with lower class, or poor. These terms are helpful in assisting understanding of the kind of people being discussed, but by no means fully describe just how diverse this proportion of the population is.

The underclass is seen as a group of people suffering from many different problems. Some of these have been defined as: welfare dependency, lone-parenthood, teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, crime, long-term unemployed. Welfare dependency is an important factor in the social crisis described by Alcock, Payne, Sullivan, (2000). Morris (1994) describes welfare dependency as counter culture, in that it devalues work, encourages family break-up, and focuses on the needs of the individual rather than society.

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The stigma once attached to poor relief has declined since 1955, making welfare dependency a more acceptable alternative to work (Alcock, et al. , 2000). Theories that levels of benefit for each claimant were too high have led to a fall in their value over the last few years, although interestingly, the number of claimants has not decreased (Morris, 1994). Another facet of benefit dependency is benefit fraud. Morris(1994) describes benefit fraudsters as fitting into two categories: those that claim they are not working whilst they are, and those that have no intention of working, or seeking work.

Those that claim benefits while they work are torn between the desire to provide for their family and the real lack of regular, stable employment. Those that don’t work, are described as perhaps setting their sights too high, and not accepting work unless the pay reaches a certain level. Single headed families have their own set of problems that are believed to contribute to the theory of an underclass. Most lone-parent families have a matriarchal structure where the women are left to run the family, with fathers mostly unwilling to marry, or simply absent.

Lone parenthood often equates to benefit dependency as work can be difficult to organise with no support or childcare. Childcare is not easily affordable and most find that they are financially better off by not working. The work ethic, an important lesson in life, is passed on through generations. Morris (1994) shows that figures support Murray’s claim of the lack of working male role model leading to delinquency and children who do not work.

However, this is offset by the 1976 Rutter and Madge report, which found that “at least half of the children born into a disadvantage home do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation” and furthermore, “… many people become disadvantaged without having been reared by disadvantaged parents”. P96, Joan Brown says never-married mothers eventually marry and do not stay on benefits, and only represent 1/4 of total. “long term benefit dependence is greater for divorced mothers than for never-married mothers”. * Morris, L. (1994) Alcock et al. claim the British underclass “in Britain may be observed in decaying and often isolated (geographically and socially) council housing estates” (2000, p. 53). Although council estates are not the only area of deprivation or social problems, there is a pattern of behaviour inherent to certain habitation areas. Pawson and Kintrea (DATE? ) explain how housing policies of some landlords (both private and housing association) have caused and exacerbated problems of social exclusion, by using “‘exclusionary’ allocation policies”.

However recent attention has been paid to a number of landlords attempting to reverse these policies in order to relieve social exclusion (Somerville and Spink, 2000). ” Housing policies are important in creating communities, and allowing people to be part of normal society (for example, one cannot function as a part of society if homeless), yet can cause “social and spatial divisions”, and create difficulties in education or when applying for work, or even for basic services such as supermarkets (Pawson & Kintrea (DATE? . Three groups that seem most at risk are single mothers, ethnic minorities and immigrants/refuge seekers. All seem to be grouped in areas due to housing policy (Morris, 1994). The notion of ghettos is best viewed in the United States of America, where as described by Hall (1996), immigrant colonies live with their own rules and morals. Recent arrivals find it difficult to integrate into a ready-made society, with alien rules and where often the language is not their own.

The children of these immigrants adapt quickly however and find themselves caught between two ways of life. This can cause problems of discipline and rebellion arise between the children and their parents. Racism and racial discrimination can lead to exclusion, as shown with housing policies. Education also treats ethnic minorities unfavourably, generating “large numbers of unqualified black school leavers” (Hall, 1996 p. 396). Even in the workplace, Blacks do not progress as well or as quickly as whites (Morris, 1994).

The flow of illegal immigrants, contributed to the notion of an international underclass, consisting of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, most being ‘super-exploited’. All this can lead to exclusion, and it is interesting that in the United States of America, the underclass is those living in ghettos, very few of which are white. Social exclusion in groups formed through housing or immigration can lead to crime, and as Murray stated in 1990, “The habitual criminal is the classic member of the underclass.

He lives off mainstream society without participating in it”, (in Morris, 1994, p. 99). The fear is that as crime and fraud (including benefit fraud) increases, it becomes normalised and children learn the skills of the previous generation (Morris, 1994). Although there is merit in this fear, and crime statistics show increases from one year to the next, is should be remembered that “Statistics, notoriously, can lie; … and none among these more so than statistics of crime… (Hall, 1996, p. 363). Hall also tells that many children and grand-children that come from such circumstances “have climbed out of the underclass”, (1996, p400). The New Labour government set up a Social Exclusion Unit in 1997, to tackle the problem. The Prime Minister described social exclusion as being ‘shut out from society’, and vowed to address the issues of exclusion, focusing on work as being the cure for all excluding factors.

Social exclusion can be directly attributed to lack of work and financial freedom, although there are other excluding factors such as language barriers, and disability. With asylum seekers and immigrants becoming part of society, there are inherent problems of integration. As shown by …………… , immigrants in Chicago had many problems integrating, and formed their own excluded societal groups. Children of immigrants and asylum seekers generally find it easier to integrate, which can in turn caused problems between generations.