Who are the ‘UNDERCLASS’ really?
• In every decade since the start of the 20th Century, there has been an attempt to distinguish between the two types of poor people here and in the US
• Those whom are poor beyond their own control
• Those whom are almost wholly responsible for their own poverty • The suggestion is that this latter group somehow pose a threat to community, and often to society as a whole.
• “there are many ways to identify an underclass. I will concentrate on three phenomena... Illegitimacy, violent crime, and drop out from the labour force” (Murray,
Murrays Good Fortune
• Murray was incredibly fortunate in how was able to disseminate his ideas on the emerging British
• Article published in Sunday Times magazine, and in fact, his trip to Britain to ‘find’ the underclass was sponsored by this very publication (Mann, 1992)
• Murray was pandering to the middle classes fear of youth! • Followed this up in 1994 in same publication –
‘Underclass: the crisis deepens’
Membership of the Underclass
• The underclass can only exist if it is stable in its membership • Within every group / class, there will always be people who are unemployed, but rarely will this be everyone permanently unemployed
• Similarly, there will be children born out of wedlock, but this is a religious issue, and not about being without two parents
Demonisation of Youth
• Statistically, within the make-up of the underclass, young people are overrepresented.
• This is primarily because of the youth unemployment figures
• This results in a demonisation of youth
• Young people are blamed for the breakdown of community.
• The term underclass originates in the USA.
• ‘In the USA, poverty, welfare dependence, street crime, disorganised families and inner-city ghettos are all understood to refer to the experience of black people.
Despite the fact that there are more white Americans living in poverty than black, the underclass is presumed to be mainly black.’ (Graham and Clarke, 2001)
Failings of the Family
Criminality and ‘Benefits Culture’
• For Murray (1990), the welfare state, the underclass and crime are related.
• Solution to problem of the underclass (and thus criminality and disorder) is withdrawal of benefits.
– NB The welfare state was supposed to help to reduce crime. • Instead, Murray promoted ‘self-government’.
– Emphasis on individual responsibility.
Critique of Family-Based Explanations
• 2. No strong evidence to directly link single parenthood to rising crime.
Correlation is not causation
– ‘Rather than dealing with inequality, some politicians find it tempting to blame "broken families", "bad parenting" and "damaged" children. …it is sometimes suggested that our broken society results from broken families. In
… our book The Spirit Level, we include an analysis of the effects of higher rates of single parenthood on levels of child wellbeing in rich countries. The proportion of single parents varies from under 4% in Greece to nearly 30% in
Britain and the US, but this bears no relation to average levels of child