Britain's Underclass

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Lisa Humble
The underclass
The underclass is a widely debated topic, which is discussed by two opposing groups, those with a cultural view and those with a structural view. The two groups are for and against the underclass and both have strong opinions on the topic. Some sociologists argue that there is an “underclass” and this class of people are underneath the working class in the class hierarchy.

The term “underclass” refers to a group of people that, in some people’s opinions are at the lowest position of the class hierarchy. The underclass has been greatly discussed since the 1960s when Gunner Myrdal referred to them as a “class of unemployed, unemployables and underemployed”, who are more hopelessly set apart from the nation at large and do not share in its life, its ambitions and its achievements (Myrdal, 1963, p.121). Socialists have agreed that there is definitely a group of people at the bottom, but do not agree with why they are there. There are two views, the cultural view, who argue that the underclass are scroungers, dependant on benefits and have no intention of looking for work. Then there is the structural view, who argues that these people are at the bottom of the class system because society put them there, with factors such as poor relatives and very few jobs which can lead to social exclusion.

The underclass began in America where urban black ghettos were targeted by Gunner Myrdal as a “growing underclass who suffered poverty and were likely too for generations” (Myrdal, 1963). Race became the biggest feature of this class until sociologist William Julius Wilson changed the debate back to a structure of class. Wilson sees blacks as making up an underclass, but only because he feels that they have had an unfair disadvantage, not cultural differences. Racism and lack of experience has stopped these groups from finding employment. The people in these groups who had found success have moved on, leaving the so called underclass behind (Wilson, 1987. P40).

Charles Murray (1989) holds a cultural view of the underclass. He argues that in America and more recently in Britain, there is a growing underclass which is defined in terms of behaviour and attitudes. It includes single parents, the unemployed who do not want to work and those making a living out of crime. He argues that the underclass do not have values such as honesty and hard work. They live off benefits, which are encouraging and allowing people to become single parents and children are brought up without a male role model and don’t understand the value of having a hard working father. Murray (1989) argues that illegitimacy is increasing rapidly, particularly among women from the lower social classes. Young men without a job are less likely to be able to support a family, so less likely to get married when they father children and therefore illegitimacy rates rise. Murray (1989) believes a change to the benefit system would be a good start to resolving this problem. Murray (1989) puts the underclass into three categories, single parents, the unemployed who do not want to work and those making a living off crime. They are points in Murray’s arguments that can be argued, e.g. women could be single parents due to the fact that their partner has died and the unemployed could actually want to work, just unable to find employment. Murray argues that in the USA there is a black “underclass” that consists of criminals, single mothers and young men who do not wish to work. Murray believes all of the problems stem from the benefit system, as people become dependant on living off benefits rather than wanting to go out and make a living. According to Murray it is too easy for women to have babies and live a single parents and for males to revoke their responsibilities as fathers, therefore, unmarried women should not be able to receive benefits. New right solution agrees welfare should be reduced to reduce the dependency...
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