Social Construction

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This essay is going to critically analyse the social construction of poverty by underlining the issues. In this essay I will attempt to explore how a social problem is ‘constructed’ and how poverty has been constructed into such a problem. It will explore how poverty is defined and how it has been considered as a deviation from the norm by discussing the distribution of power and how it influences the construction of a social problem, how cultural values play a part in the social construction process and finally I will look at what policy responses have been formulated in response to poverty.

All references to service users and carers have been anonymised to indicate respect and maintain confidentiality, in keeping with the GSCC Code of Practice.

The term poverty is defined in the Oxford Concise Dictionary as ‘that of lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal’. This definition in appears to be a construction of what normality is and it suggests that to be in poverty is a deviation from the norm, it makes a suggestion that there are good and bad people and this deviation from the good is one aspect of how a social problem could be constructed.  The deviation from the norm regarding poverty could suggest that people are poor through their own actions and to remedy this situation they should adopt more normal actions of self reliance such as proper budgeting, harder work etc.

According to Hingham, P(2006) “poverty” is the common factor in social workers involvement”, therefore social workers work towards promoting social justice by addressing the causes of poverty. Those who use, and are required to use, social work services continue overwhelmingly to be poor and disadvantaged (Smale et al., 2000). Poverty provides the context for other factors that can increase the likelihood of contact with social services. For example, unemployment, social isolation and low incomes can be contributory factors in causing problems such as family break up, poor health, and difficulties in caring for children and other dependents. Similarly, poverty can increase the likelihood of children being looked after by the care services; of older adults going into residential care; and of admission to a psychiatric ward (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1995; Becker 1997; Smale et. al. 2000; Social Exclusion Unit, 2004). It is essential that social workers develop the ability to be reflective and adopt critical practice (Adams et al., 2005) to guard against discriminatory practices.

Society comprises of a range of systems in which they are many structures operating simultaneously, some reinforcing and some contradicting each other. Social work is essentially a socially constructed activity. Social construction reflects on the values and opinions of a particular culture at a particular time. This has a profound impact on social work practice. The expansion of social work in the 1970s was partly intended to respond to the “cycle of deprivation”. The cycle of deprivation has been shown repeatedly to be a myth. Although many people are convinced that they know “problem families” that have been poor for generations, this is a false impression. When three generations of a family are poor, it is not because poverty is inherited; all it shows is that people who live together are sharing hardship.

Poverty is seen as a social problem through a complex process of social construction. There is a construction of poverty that identifies it as a necessary feature of social life: some people will be better endowed, try harder or be more successful than others, and inequality will be an inevitable result (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994). Interfering with this natural order of things is dangerous, particularly because it prevents poverty acting as a spur to try harder. Inequalities are both the natural result of unequal performance in a competitive world and necessary to keep people trying to succeed. The response to...
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