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The New Poor, Worklessness and the “Underclass” Debate Families

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Rationale of the study

The interest in poverty dynamics has risen among academicians in the UK. Research into poverty defines it not only as an economic deprivation but also a life on its own (Kelso, 1994). While typically defined in economic terms, Poverty is often accompanied by a myriad of social behaviours. Behaviours such as Substance abuse, crime and welfare dependency are mostly concentrated among those living in poverty (Oxoby, 2003). Such like behaviours are often considered characteristics of the poor, worklessness and underclass (Oxoby, 2003).
Whilst recognizing that family breakdown is not the root cause of poverty, its impact is pervasive at the personal, social and economic level (Finch & Mason, 1993). Research has indicated that 48% of children born in the UK are more likely to experience the breakdown in their parent’s relationship (Freud, 2007). Studies have also shown that 75% of these children are likely to fail, 70% may become drug addicts, 50% are more likely to become alcoholic and 35% experience worklessness (Freud, 2007). Moreover, the cost of family breakdown to the exchequer is estimated at 42 billion pounds annually (Freud, 2007).

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Over the past decade, family stability in Britain has been in continuous decline with most adults and minors faced with the challenge of dysfunctional families (Fairclough, 2000). This is more prevalent in the least advantaged sections but these trends also impact on individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum. Despite these demographic changes, there has been lack of serious debates on the causes and the effect family instability on the wider society. This proposal forms an important contribution to existing studies and seeks examine the patterns of change, breakdown and parenting deficit in Britain.


The effectiveness and efficiency of the labour market is normally gauged by unemployment rates and level of economic inactivity in the economy. In this regard, Ritchie et al (2005) defined worklessness in reference individuals who are economically inactive and unemployed. Ritchie et al (2005) recognized a wide range of groups such as the disabled, minority ethnic and the lone parents who are more likely to be less advantaged in the labour market and thus at a higher risk of becoming workless. While recognizing that being a member of these groups may not necessarily translate into worklessness, membership of any of them increases the risk of becoming workless. This is closely associated with poverty which is often reflected in upsurge in crime levels, family breakdown and ill health.
Similarly, the concept of ‘underclass’ was first coined by an American sociologist, Charles Murray (Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995). His idea of underclass holds the individual primarily responsible for his poverty. He asserted that being a member of the underclass meant having deplorable subculture linked to avoiding work. The underclass is largely responsible for crime upsurge in the UK. In the recent years, the rise in violent crime in Britain has occurred alongside the rapid growth of the underclass population. Unsurprisingly, this issue has continued unabated.

Problem statement

There is a rising concern over the increase in antisocial behaviour and youth crime in most parts of the UK (Green & White, 2007). There is evidence of higher and more sustained levels of youth crime and antisocial behavior. Whilst recognizing that the United Kingdom doesn’t significantly experience worse crime than other countries, it appears that UK has suffered more intractable and higher levels of antisocial behavior than most countries in the whole of Western Europe (Green & White, 2007). This is evident through increased media and political focus on the anti-social behavior and changes to the policy framework such as reducing the age of criminal responsibility to 10 (Green & White, 2007).
Research into the prevalence of crime rates in the UK has identified the nature of macroeconomic forces that fuel the crime rate and increase antisocial behavior among the youths (Dickens, 1986). Among these forces are a growing number of the underclass, spread of youth gang culture and worklessness (Dickens, 1986). This proposal thus seeks to examine the patterns of change, breakdown and parenting deficit in UK that might lead to the new poor, worklessness and underclass.

Research purpose and research question

The primary goal of this analysis is to examine the patterns of change, breakdown and parenting deficit in Britain. As a result the following are the research objectives:
• Analyse the impact of the new poor, worklessness and underclass in Britain.
• Examine to what extent the patterns of change, family breakdown and parenting deficit is responsible for the Broken Britain.
• To infer the correlation between parenting deficit and antisocial behaviour.
Literature review
Concerns about the patterns of change, breakdown and parenting deficit have stirred interest in the social capital concept as a policy framework for promoting social resources (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003). A prominent theorist, Robert Putnam (1996) defined social capital as focusing on norm, network and trust and linking their measurement to the economic growth, health and well being of individuals.
In a similar study, Newton (1997) identified family as a platform necessary in establishing social capital. These authors have however been criticized by Ian (2000) who argued that these theorists did not provide a precise way through which family life supports social capital, but rather presented a vague and generalized idealization of the family as positive role models.
Perhaps, a more detailed analysis of the correlation between social capital and family life is that offered by Coleman (1988) who analyzed the parent child relationship as a key feature of social capital. Coleman (1988) focused on the function of the norm and network in conceptualizing the definition of social capital. Moreover, his analysis related this social capital to outcomes such as development, well being and educational success. This theoretical approach resonates with the wider concern of social fragmentation and family breakdown and gives a clear focus for policy initiatives (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003). Given the crucial role played by families in the foundation of social capital, it is imperative for the state to address the current deficit in parenting support in UK which is largely responsible for the prevalence of social ills.

Theoretical framework.

Several theories have been offered as an explanation for the prevalence of poverty in Britain, the most common being the individualistic theories and the structural theories (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003). This analysis will focus on the former. Individualistic theories emphasizes on inappropriate individual behaviours when identifying the main causes of poverty rather than the social and cultural factors (Oxoby, 2003). Individualistic theories comprise of three main categories namely: orthodox economic theory, minority group theory and subculture of poverty theory (Weber & Jensen, 2004).
The orthodox economic theory suggests that poverty occurrence is due to the economic deficiency of the individual (Weber & Jensen, 2004). The theory argues that the distribution of incomes is largely determined by the general abilities of individuals in the labour force. Individuals are destined to be poor simply because they have not maximized their true potential in the labour market.

The minority group theory originates from the findings of the studies of poverty in London at the beginning of the 20th century by Booth & Rowntree (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003). These social scientists analysed the characteristics potrayed by individuals of certain groups. The minority group theory used these characteristics in explaining the causes of poverty. Going beyond demographic indicators, the minority group theory implicates alleged faulty characteristics (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003). This theory has prompted policy makers to implement a benefit system that ensures that the most basic needs are met. Policies of successive governments are often informed by the minority group theory (Bentolila, Michelacci & Suarez, 2003).
Lastly, the subculture of poverty theory originates from anthropological and sociological studies, particularly, the work of Oscar Lewis (Quigley, 2003). Lewis introduced the term “culture of poverty” in order to draw an analogy between the lower class Mexican families and those living in different parts of the world. Lewis work explains the phenomenon of prevalence of poverty in most parts of the world. These theoretical approaches will be useful in this analysis.

Research design and methodology

The study will employ quantitative approach to data gathering. The use of survey and a focus group will be employed by the researcher. A survey gathers data at a particular point in time so as to establish the relationship that exists between events (Quigley, 2003). The importance of survey lies in its appeal to universality and its ability to establish a degree of confidence from a set of findings (Quigley, 2003).

Data collection and analysis

To accomplish the objectives of this proposal, data will be drawn from various sources. Data on worklessness and inactivity will be drawn mainly from the Office of National Statistics, Nomis websites and Neighbourhood statistics. Social capital data will be drawn from diverse sources such as the British Crime Survey, British Household Panel Survey, Families and Children Survey, and finally Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey. It is envisaged that the outcome of this analysis will reveal the nature and characteristics of Broken Britain and propose interventions measures.


With the above taken into account, it can be concluded that this research proposal is of paramount importance. In light of the findings of this analysis, the policy perspective will be addressed. Conclusion will be drawn based on the findings obtained from the study.
(1555 words)


Bentolila. S., Michelacci. C., & Suarez. J. (2003), Social Networks and Occupational Choice, London School of Economics, Centre for Economic Performance, mimeo.
Coleman. J. S. (1988), Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital, American Journal of
Sociology, Vol 94, pp.95-120
Dickens. W. T. (1986), Crime and punishment again: the economic approach with a psychological twist, Journal of Public Economics, vol. 30, pp. 97–107
Fairclough. N. (2000), New Labour, New Language, London, Routledge
Finch J. & Mason. J. (1993), Negotiating Family Responsibilities, London, Routledge.
Freud. D (2007), Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work, An independent report to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Furstenberg. F. F. & Hughes. M. E. (1995), Social Capital and Successful Development
Among at-Risk-Youth, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 57, pp.580-592.
Green A. E & White.R.J (2007), Attachment to place: Social networks, mobility and prospects of young people, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick.
Ian.W (2000), Towards a Theorised Understanding of Family Life and Social Capital,
Working Paper No. 21, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Kelso. W. (1994), Poverty and the Underclass, New York: New York University Press
Newton. K (1997), Social Capital and Democracy; American Behaviourist Scientist, Vol. 40,
No. 5, pp. 575-586.
Oxoby. R. J. (2003), Attitudes and allocations: status, cognitive dissonance and the manipulation of attitudes, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, vol. 52, pp. 365–85
Putnam. R. (1996), The Strange Disappearance of Civic America, Policy, Autumn, pp.3-15
Ritchie, Helen, Casebourne & Rick (2005), Understanding workless people and communities: A literature review, Department for Work and Pensions Research, Report No 255.
Stone.W., Gray.M & Hughes.J (2003), Social capital at work: How family, friends and civic ties relate to labour market outcomes, Australian Institute of family studies
Weber.B., & Jensen. L. (2004), Poverty and Place: A Critical Review of Rural Poverty Literature, Rural Poverty Research Center, Oregon State University, Working Paper 04-03.
Wilson. W. J. (1987), The Truly Disadvantaged: the Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Quigley.W. P. (2003), Ending Poverty As We Know It, Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

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