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How Is Poverty Constructed as a Social Problem in the UK Today Essay

The term ‘social problem’ refers to certain problems that are socially recognised by society and are felt to threaten certain values cherished by the public. This essay will investigate the different types of poverty that occur in the U. K and will explore the sociological arguments as to how poverty links with social problems such as social exclusion, gender discrimination in the work place, lone-parenting and disability and look at how these problems are perceived in today’s society.

Poverty is an ever increasing issue in the UK and is perceived as a major social problem due to the consequences that it brings with it . The term ‘social problem’ refers to specific problems in our society which are sociologically recognised. These problems are socially constructed and can be distinguished when certain values that are cherished by the public are felt threatened by a particular event that is happening in society and can be thought of to threaten the stability of a community or society as the public already know it.

Firstly, this essay will explore the different types of poverty that exist in the UK. Secondly, it will explore why poverty exists and explain the reasons as to why certain people are affected by poverty and how this links with structure and agency. In conclusion, this essay will emphasise the main arguments as to why poverty is constructed as a social problem in today’s society. When exploring the different types of poverty that commonly exist in the UK, it can be categorised into two main groups, absolute poverty and relative poverty.

Absolute definitions of poverty are usually seen to have logic to them based around the topic of subsistence; what is needed to sustain our lives’ (Alcock, 2006:66). Anyone who is below the subsistence level is said to be suffering from absolute poverty. The term ‘poverty’ gives the connotations of deprivation, hardship, shortage and scarcity etc; however the word ‘absolute’ emphasises the extent of poverty that one is living in. Absolute poverty refers to people who do not have access to the day to day resources that are needed to meet their subsistence levels in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For example sufferers of this type of poverty are known to be lacking the essential, basic needs such as a clean water supply, a good food source, shelter, sanitation, clothing and a good income are absent in peoples’ lives who are suffering from this type of poverty. However, subsistence level is what we need to sustain our life, and differs on time and place. Thus introducing the idea that different people need different things in different places according to different circumstances (Alcock, 2006:67).

Research has shown that sociologist Rowntree, developed an idea to determine levels of poverty. He established a basic diet theory from the judgement of nutritionists to act as a subsistence definition of poverty which showed that people were living in poverty to very different extents. This theory adopted the definition of ‘Relative Poverty’ which is a more cultural and social definition due to the changes in poverty overtime. Relative poverty can be seen as a comparison between the standard of living between other members of society who are living in poverty to different levels.

The main idea being suggested with relative poverty is that some needs are not related in any way to the maintenance of physical health (Kane, 2003:51). For example, a person may have the basic needs to sustain a healthy life such as food, water, shelter, sanitation and some sort of income; but they also possess such things which are not directly related to ‘the maintenance of physical health’ such as a television, radio, newspapers, books, alcohol and tobacco, or even means of transport.

When considering relative poverty, it is essential to look at what becomes the ‘essential needs’ for a person as time changes, standards of life improve and peoples’ expectations grow. In support of this, an excellent way of understanding poverty can be seen as a ‘comparison between the standard of living of those who are poor and those who are not, or by the distinction between the merely existing and the living’ (Alcock,2006).

Poverty is seen as a social problem as the issues that derive around it affect our society as a whole. Poverty exists in the U. K for a number of reasons, however it has been found that there is not one solitary answer as to why it exists and many people have diverse opinions on the subject matter. However, discarding the different definitions or descriptions of poverty, academics and policy makers do agree that poverty is a social problem and is seen as an unacceptable state of affairs (Alcock:2006:4).

Poverty exists due to many reasons including unemployment, crime, low income, the amount of education and skill, social inequality and exclusion, gender, age, disability and ethnicity and when put into perspective these issues can be linked with structure and agency. Social exclusion is an individual and collective problem that examines the topic of how living standards recognize not only what a person or family have but also what they do.

Thus portraying the idea social exclusion can be significant in representing whether or not an individual is suffering from poverty or not, as social exclusion prevents them from participating in specific common and popular social groups thus reinforcing the idea that social exclusion depends crucially on independent agency. ‘Social exclusion is a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas have a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime and family breakdown’ (Ridge, 2008:46).

This is a good example of how poverty is constructed as a social problem as if one is living in relative poverty, and cannot seek employment and is welfare dependent living off benefits, then the individual will be socially excluded in that they may not be able to afford to join certain social clubs, or get to remote public services and in general the issue of discrimination will stop people from joining certain activities and entering certain areas. ‘Social exclusion is a problem for society if there are those who are unable to take part in social relations, including in a democracy, political participation and involvement’ (Ridge, 2008:47).

Women are more prone to live in low income circumstances than men, hence introducing the social problem of gender discrimination. Women have been discriminated in the workplace over time in that they are paid less than men in specific jobs and are not seen to be ‘suited’ to particular jobs, especially in the manufacturing and trade industries. Marxist feminist Margaret Benston believed that women were oppressed by capitalism in that they were treated almost as a back-up, or secondary option of cheap labour that enabled profits to be kept up.

‘In 1994, 6. 1 million women were in low-paid jobs and on average women’s full-time gross weekly pay was 72 percent of that of men’(Kane, 2003:115). The public representation of the ‘typical single parent’ can be rather distorted, however research has shown that the majority or lone-parents who are likely to suffer from poverty, are women. ‘Women’s retirement income is boosted significantly by having a partner with a history of well-paid work, but women who have had children and are separated or divorced face very high risks of pension poverty’(Ridge,2008:138).

This piece of evidence shows that if the women has separated from her partner then she is likely to face poverty in bringing up their children alone and this in itself is subject to cause many other social problems. Raising a family as a single mother, whilst suffering from relative poverty can, in some cases, lead to related social problems such as crime, alcohol and drug misuse, vandalism, discrimination, unemployment and suicide.

If a child is brought up in a household which lacks the basic needs to sustain a healthy life, then they may be pulled into a more anti-social lifestyle, which in turn could lead to unemployment for them when they get older and resorting to sleeping rough on the streets, and thus increasing the number of homeless people in our society. Similarly, discrimination towards disabled people is a common problem in today’s society determined by individualism.

Disabled people are more likely to suffer from poverty than those without a disability. The poverty rate for adults with disabilities is 30%, twice that for adults without a disability’ (Ridge, 2008:244). This can be illustrated by the fact that disabled people are confronted with a lot of discrimination in their lifetime, especially when seeking employment. Hence why a lot of disabled people are unemployed and living in poverty.

Recent studies highlighted the additional costs for a disabled person to meet their needs and it was found that even when a disabled person is receiving the maximum benefit levels, those suffering with a disability are given approximately ? 00 a week less than the weekly amount required for them to ensure a minimum standard of living (Ridge,2008:245). Consequently, this is because not only do people with disabilities have a low income, their living costs are much higher due to the expenditure needed on special equipment, utilities and food. Throughout this essay, I have explored the different types of poverty that are commonly found in our society and have highlighted some of the main reasons as to why poverty is constructed as a social problem in the U. K today and by whom it is affected by.

For problems to become socially recognised they need to have an impact on society in a way that certain values cherished by the public are felt to be threatened. By examining the issues of social exclusion, gender, lone parenting and disability we can conclude that these issues are definitely seen problems in our society. It becomes evident that the subject of discrimination links into all these issues, and thus emphasising that poverty is distinguished as a social problem in the U. K, and although the extent of these problems changes over time and place, it will most likely be a recurring problem in our society for entirety.


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