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Marxist Framework of Poverty in the UK

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1627 words Published: 19th Jul 2018

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Poverty is generally understood to mean a condition in which people are deprived in some way, such that they lack the basic requirements for sustaining well-being, and ultimately, life. These basic requirements are understood as such things as food, water, shelter (as may be understood, for example, in a developing country context) or access to education or political power (as might be understood, for example, in the context of a developed nation). Poverty is an absolute within itself, as people are termed to be in poverty, but poverty can also be understood in relative terms, when, for example, poverty of different resources is considered: poverty of education is obviously not as fundamental a level of poverty as poverty of food, for example, as, obviously, without food, a person would die, but a person can manage to live without education, even if this would mean a life of continuing poverty, through lack of opportunity.

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Poverty can be measured in many different ways, and indeed, there are many indicators of poverty, which are used to assess year-on-year changes in poverty. Obviously, as with definitions of poverty, measurements of poverty are relative, with different measures being used in developed vs. developing nations, for example, or between nations of the developed, or developing, world. In general, one overall measure of poverty which has gained ground in recent years is the income inequality scale, which shows that income inequality has, recently, worldwide, become less of a problem, with the world becoming more equitable in terms of income levels across the world’s nations. This does not belittle the problems of poverty, however, as poverty is still a major issue that the world has yet to deal with in a satisfactory manner.

As with the definitions and measurement of poverty, the causes of poverty are many and varied, with environmental and geographical factors creating poverty in many developing countries, and with disease and lack of natural resources also causing poverty in these regions. Indeed, it is difficult to attribute one cause to poverty in any situation, especially poverty in developing countries. In developed nations, however, poverty is perhaps best understood as a product of society’s failure to act to avoid the situation, and, as such, policies are in place to prevent poverty in these situations[1]. It is a moot point, however, amongst politicians, social workers and philanthropists as to how far policies can actually prevent poverty, and, indeed, some people suggest that current policies do not go far enough to act to prevent poverty.

The effects of poverty are, again, many and varied, with poverty leading, ultimately, to death, in many developing nations, and with poverty leading to lack of opportunity and social exclusion in developed nations. In developed nations, policies are in place to avoid such poverty, such as subsidised housing, education and health care[2], although these are not always effective, as we have seen, leading to undesirable effects, such as crime (Jones, 2001; Muncie, 2004). It is hypothesised, for example, that in extreme poverty situations, people turn to crime in order to provide basic necessities, and this has been supported by much original research on the subject (see Muncie, 2004).

The next section of the paper will look at levels of poverty in the UK, and following this, the paper will then proceed to assess poverty in the UK from a Marxist viewpoint. Poverty in the UK is still at shockingly high levels, with the problem seeming, on the face of it, to be mainly caused by low pay levels; indeed, it is suggested by recent research that in low-income households, both members of the family need to work in order for the family to earn enough to cover basic expenses[3], and that, of these low income families, many are at a disadvantage in terms of receiving health care and the achievement of minimum educational standards. It seems, also, that this trend, rather than decreasing, is actually increasing, with the number of families claiming children’s tax credits increasing year-on-year and the proportion of workers classed as ‘low paid’ increasing year-on-year[4].

It is shocking, therefore, to see that much of the UK, and a large proportion of the children living in the UK, live in poverty. This is despite the fact that policies have been in place for many decades to try to curtail, and avoid altogether, the issue of poverty. As we have seen, however, these policies are often not effective, and can take years to come to fruition, by which time a new generation of infants have grown up in poverty, leading to what is known as ‘the poverty trap’. We have seen, therefore, how successive UK governments have attempted to deal with the issue of poverty: by creating policies to deal with each ‘strand’ of poverty individually, and not attacking the whole problem of poverty as a whole.

This leads on to thinking about how Marxists understand poverty, which is essentially in a more holistic, if idealistic, manner. Marxists do not make any distinction between class, poverty and disadvantage; for Marxists, members of any class, they argue, can fall into poverty through unemployment, for example, and that, as such, ‘the poor’ can be best be viewed as part of a continuum from those in society who have a lot of material wealth to those who do not. This definition using the idea of a continuum, however, stands in direct contrast to the situation of class inequality which, obviously, Marxists attempt to fight against by their calls for equality in society, for all.

Perhaps the issue of poverty can be best understood in terms of the dependency theory of Marxists: this theory suggest, essentially, that lifting the poor out of poverty is not enough, they need to be given tools to be able to sustain themselves out of poverty. True Marxists would add that this can never be achieved under a capitalist system, as this system is built to achieve successes at the expense of the failure of others; as such, poverty is a consequence of the capitalist system, and something which Marxists fight against, in their search for equality, or, rather, in terms of poverty, in their quest for a situation in which underdevelopment is not an option.

Assessing poverty in terms of a purely socio-political approach as we have done, and then within the framework of Marxism as we have also attempted, provides two different frameworks with which to understand the issue of poverty. One framework aims to treat poverty as something that can be solved by implementing policies and by watching those policies take effect, the other attempts to understand poverty as a societal achievement, which can only be solved by changing the very foundations of society.

Social workers are some of societies most valuable professionals, who, in concert with families, teachers, and the police can put children, and families, back on track before they reach an irreversible moment in which damage has been done which cannot be corrected. Children are valuable members of society, and it is the responsibility of all society to look after them: perhaps this is what Marx was implying when he talked of societal equality. Children deserve equality of opportunity, in terms of access to basic requirements, and, above these, to health care and education and information provision. Without these basic requirements, without basic care, children live in poverty. It is a travesty that in this day and age there are many children who live in poverty in the UK, but with the approach outlined here applied on a daily basis by social workers, it is hoped that poverty will soon be a thing of the past, at least in the UK.


Best, S. (2005) Understanding Social Divisions, London, Sage

Cree, V. E. (2000) Sociology for Social Workers and Probation Officers, London, Routledge.

Dominelli, L. (1997) Sociology for Social Work, London, MacMillan

Glennerster, H. et al. (2004). One hundred years of poverty and policy. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Iceland, J. (2003). Poverty in America. A Handbook of the University of California Press.

Jones, S. (2001) Criminology, Trowbridge, Cromwell Press

Layder, D. (2005) Understanding Social Theory, London, Sage

Muncie, J. (2004) Youth and Crime, 2nd edition, London, Sage,

Ritzer, G. (2000) Sociological Theory, London, McGraw-Hill



[1] A recent book by Glennerster et al. (2004) entitled One hundred years of poverty and policy, provides a review of the effects and ramifications of policy on poverty in the UK.

[2] Although the nation that sees itself as ‘the most developed’ on Earth, the United States, offers none of these poverty-reducing schemes, and indeed, poverty in the United States is on the increase, and reaches disturbingly high levels. See Iceland (2003) for further details.

[3] See the report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK, 2006 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

[4] Again, according to the report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK, 2006 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


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