How Is Poverty Constructed as a Social Problem in the Uk Today?

Topics: Sociology, Poverty, Social exclusion Pages: 5 (1720 words) Published: June 25, 2013
How is poverty constructed as a social problem in the UK today?


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...
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