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HNC Social Care Sociology Poverty and Ineqaulity

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In this essay we are going to look at the causes of poverty and inequality in the UK and the effect that it has on society. We will also be looking at sociological theories and how they can relate to poverty. “Poverty in the UK is classed as being relative to the standards of living in a society at a specific time.” (Scottish poverty information unit) “A person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs. This minimum level is usually called the poverty line. “(World bank organisation) According to sociologists poverty and inequality can be linked to 2 main causes, Cultural and structural. Cultural theorists suggest that poverty is caused by the individual and is considered by many as blaming the victim. A simple explanation of this would be that welfare system in the UK for example, allows poor people to stay in poverty. Creating an underclass of people, dependant of welfare, which is passed on from generation to generation? It suggests that the poor engage in self defeating actions and resign themselves to a life of poverty, making no attempt to better themselves, thus creating their own poverty.

If we look at poverty and inequality causes from a structural theorists view, we begin to move away from the idea of blaming the victim and look more at the social structures in society as being the root cause of poverty. Theorists state that the poor are victims of the system, suggesting that the underclass are willing and able to work but lack of opportunities, such as poor education and lack of training/jobs exclude them from the labour market. It also suggests that wages and benefits are purposely kept low to ensure the elite members of society can hold economic power over the majority. (Bingham.E.2009) Peter Townsend(1979) states, its guaranteed that people are at a disadvantage in the labour market when they are considered too old or too disabled, not skilled enough or black. These inequalities ensure that the poor stay poor forcing people onto benefits or into minimum wage jobs. Social class plays a huge part in inequality with many wealthy and powerful members of society benefiting from better education, better housing/areas and better health.(Bingham.E.2009) The Marxists perspective strengthens the idea that poverty is a structural problem and that poverty is a direct result of a capitalist society. Capitalism benefits large, powerful institutions, creating inequalities of wealth in society.

Marxists argue that poverty exists to serve the needs of a capitalist society. As long as there are poor, unemployed people, wages will stay low as this creates fear and job insecurities within society. People are less likely to complain about low wages when they know there is a reserve army of unemployed people willing to work for less. By keeping wages low, it in turn generates more wealth for the ruling class (employers/capitalists). The only way to solve poverty and inequality issues is to eradicate capitalism completely; the result of this would be an egalitarian society, meaning everyone is equal. In my placement I am able to witness first hand some of the ways in which poverty and inequality have affected my clients and their life chances. As I work in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre all my clients have struggled for years with their addictions and most of them have experienced poverty and inequality. The most significant effect of poverty on this client group is lack of help and assistance available to them. Up until 5 years ago when LEAP was formed, the only NHS community rehab facilities available were in England.

The only rehab in Lothian is private and a 3 month programme there costs in effect of £40000. By campaigning for a number of years LEAP was formed as an NHS run unit and is accessible to everyone who meets their criteria regardless of wealth or status. Not only has poverty affected the life chances of many of my clients in regards to getting clean and sober, it has also affected their housing options. Many of my clients have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and have been rehoused in deprived areas of the city. For a drug user being housed in a block of flats or hostel with other drug users makes it almost impossible to address their drug issues, so again we could argue that their life chances are being greatly disadvantaged due to poverty. Poverty has not only affected my client’s chances of getting clean, it has also had a direct impact on their behaviour within society. Many of my clients have resorted to crime to fund their habit, some petty shoplifting to others with more serious crimes such as robbery and mugging.

This increased crime rate has a knock on effect to society as insurances increase and prices inflate to cover losses, people start to resent the less desirable members of the community(in this instance, my clients aka the drug addicts and alcoholics) so as a result society starts to divide again into those who deserve and those who don’t. If we look at the functionalist perspective we can relate this theory to my clients and placement. As poverty provides warning for the rest of society to conform and work harder.

The idea that “it could be me” or “if I don’t work hard, I will end up like them” exists to motivate people into doing their bit for society and from a functionalist perspective; this means that if everyone is doing their bit then the wheels of society will keep moving. Not only does poverty create motivation it also provides a scapegoat for the non-poor members of society to judge and divide people into categories of more or less deserving. Herbert Gans (1971) states that “the defenders of desirability in society-hard work, honestly and monogamy- need people who can be accused of being lazy, dishonest and promiscuous to justify their norms and values.” Many of my clients have been at the extreme end of poverty and from a functionalist point of view have been in the exact category of people that exist, to ensure the rest of society function both socially and economically.


BINGHAM, E. (2009). HNC in social care: for Scotland. Oxford, Heinemann. SPIU (2008) Scottish Poverty Information Unit | Glasgow Caledonian University | Scotland, UK. [online] Available at: http://www.gcu.ac.uk/research/researchatglasgowcaledonianuniversity/researchcentres/scottishpovertyinformationunit/ [Accessed: 30 Jan 2013]. Worldbank.org (2012) World Bank Group. [online] Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/ [Accessed: 30 Jan 2013].

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