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Poverty and Social Class

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Poverty and social class are very vital in determining the levels of inequalities among individuals. There have been significant fluctuations in poverty and inequality levels where communities have experienced increased levels of unemployment and limited resources; a situation that has resulted to social stratifications. As we all are aware, every individual is born and raised in a cultural and social setting that includes a family, language, social class, religion and community among others. However, people who have been raised in the same cultural settings have more or less the same responses and adaptations even without their knowledge. Thus with this in mind, people live within the social classes into which they were raised. Following this, people who were born in poor family backgrounds are likely to live and die poor, while those born in well-off backgrounds hardly experience difficulties in life. The intent of this essay is to determine the various ways in which poverty is correlated with the social classes within which individuals live. The essay will also define some of the key terms and concepts that relate to this topic.

There has been never a distinct definition of poverty. Different communities define poverty as a social occurrence under which individuals’ and households’ standards of living are below a certain level accepted by the society. However, most scholars and researchers have defined poverty in two terms. There is absolute and relative definition. Absolutely, poverty can be defined as the inability of an individual to satisfy his/ her basic needs such as clothing, food, health and shelter. However, these needs vary depending on the location, culture and social class of an individual.  Relative poverty on the other hand is defined as the level of wealth possession in relation to the society within which an individual lives. This definition though brings some controversies on where the poverty line should be drawn. Poverty therefore goes hand in hand with the social class which is commonly defined as the concept that defines the social status of an individual. Colquhoun suggests that without poverty there would be no habour and the rich would not live happily. In other words, social class is a large group of individuals that are regarded by other people or regard themselves as having some similarities in terms of their occupation, education levels, social backgrounds, experiences, and societal positions among others. Thus in most cases, people who share the same social class have these, in addition to other factors, in common.

Social classes are determined in terms of social strata/ stratification which are a hierarchy of status in relation to the economic productivity that manipulates the social returns to those in the status. The four commonly recognized social classes include; upper class, middle class, working class and finally lower class. ‘The size and composition of social classes depend on the relative prosperity of a particular country’. The upper class comprise of people who come from well established families as a result of high income earning. Such people have great authority over resources and possess significantly large amounts of these resources. They may also practice indirect or direct power through capital investment. Their high salaries and great potential for accessing wealth generally increase their visibility and power over the resources. Another significant characteristic of the upper class population is that they pass the wealth from one generation to another. While people from middle and low social classes have to work hard and struggle in order to secure good job positions and get rich, people from upper social classes do not need to do all this; they automatically inherit wealth that is sufficient enough to maintain their social standards.  Following this, they never face any hardships in life as compared to their counterparts living in low or middle class.  

Middle class on the other hand is described as a set of individuals who are well educated and possess high salaried jobs but not as high as those in the upper class. Their incomes are in most cases high and they depend on and value education since most of them are degree holders. This class is made up of professional people such as lawyers, engineers and professors among others. This class is also likely to have high influence in the society. The lower class generally defines a group of people who work in supporting jobs in order to earn a living. People in this social class as less advantaged as compared to those in middle class even though some of their household income is higher than the accepted low income threshold. Working class is the lowest in the hierarchy of social stratification.

Different organizations have however simplified social classes differently. The Registrar General has classified people into six social classes. These include the professional, the intermediate, skilled but working in non-manual occupation, skilled but doing manual jobs, partly skilled and finally the unskilled. The NS-SEC on the other hand classifies people into three major classes which in tern have some sub-classes. These three classes include the advantaged, the intermediate and the subordinate in descending order. The other organization that has also contributed in classifying populations into classes is the NS Socio-Economic Classification. This organization classifies individuals into eight social classes; the higher managerial and professional, the lower managerial and professional, intermediate, small employers and own account workers, lower supervisory and technical, semi-routine, routine and finally the long-term unemployment.

In general terms, social classes are commonly based on the individuals’ occupations. In the UK, approximately ten percent of the total population is in upper social classes. They are characterized by people in higher professions, large employers and managers. Fifty-three percent of the population is classified as living in the intermediate social class. People falling in this group include; small employers, supervisors, low managers and technicians. The remaining people, which make almost thirty-eight percent of the whole population, are classified as belonging in the subordinate social class.

As already mentioned, poverty is a multi-phased occurrence that includes one’s inability to satisfy his/ her basic needs, low education levels, lack of authority over resources, and poor health among others. The determination of poverty is based on occupation and income levels and a person is considered poor his/her occupation and/or income level is below a country’s minimum standard acceptable for meeting the basic needs. It is therefore universally accepted that poverty has significant implications on the social classes of different individuals. This is because; there are many ways in which poverty is associated with the social class of an individual. This is simply to imply that poverty is directly related to the level of education, occupation as well as the income. And it is from these parameters that people fall in the various social classes. Tawney suggests that ‘What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches ’.Some of the ways that show correlation between poverty and social class include income, health, education, housing, disability and ethnic minorities. People living in social classes that are considered low by the society are most likely to face difficulties in providing for their families good housing, quality heath, quality education, due to their low income as compared to those people classified as living in high social classes. Rates of disabilities and diseases are also recorded in large numbers in low class families relatively to the high class families. Most of the studies and researches done suggest that most people living in poverty are likely to suffer from mental illnesses in their old age as compared to their counterparts that live well off lives.

To begin with, the income of an individual has proved to be the most vital factor in determining the social class in which such an individual is placed. Most societies hold that people that earn more or live above the poverty line are rich and are therefore classified as high class people. The threshold that is commonly used to measure an individual’s income is the household income, which stands for the amount of money that is available for a given household to spend on all its needs and requirements from clothing, food, health to entertainment and travel. This threshold is usual calculated by deducting council tax, income tax and housing expenditures from the total income. Statistics show that 60% threshold calculated in the year 2005/2006 was amounting to £108 per week for adults that lived single and had no children to depend on them. Couples who lived together but had no dependent children showed a threshold of £186.  On the other hand, single parents who had at least two reliant children had a threshold of £223 while couples that had dependent children had a threshold of £301 per week. Reports indicate that in the financial year 2005/2006 approximately thirteen million people living in the UK were earning less than the proposed low income threshold. This figure indicated that about 22% of the total population was living below the poverty line. This is therefore a clear indication that most of these people are struggling to earn a living. Even though expenses vary from one place to another and also depend on the individual’s needs, these people are better classified as low class citizens because they hardly live better lives.

Since social class is commonly presented as a portrayal of how people living in a certain civilization have arranged themselves according to influences, importance and prestige among others, it automatic follows that certain professions or job groups are considered to be more prominent and enviable while others are perceived to be distasteful and retentive.  With little or no education, such children do not secure well paying jobs and therefore pass on the

The other way in which poverty is correlated with social class is individual’s health. As the gap between the rich and the poor is broadening in the UK, so are the health differences between these social classes. Poverty and social class have significant effects on the mental, physical and social health of an individual. Poverty generates psychosocial trauma which with time results into worsening health hence higher death rates. Several studies have proved that people who live in low class communities where there are limited physical and social infrastructures have poor health which in the long run results into an increase in the mortality rates. The effects of poverty may sometimes cause aggravation, stress and commotion which in most cases lead to increased rates of violence and crime. It is therefore the poor that rendered into precarious environments, insufficient amenities and requirements and unrewarding jobs which in most cases are stressful. Since they are not part of the conventional society, they are often secluded from support and information. It has been widely accepted that the lowest income earning class is likely to experience unenthusiastic effects of hazardous health behaviors as compared to their counterparts who earn higher than them. Poverty is thus associated with many long term health problems and mortality.

Even though it is not guarantee that lack of money causes mental health, it is universally accepted that it can be both a consequence and a determinant of mental illnesses. The relationship between low social class and incidences of mental illnesses is significantly alarming. Studies and reports indicate that there is direct association between poverty and the rate of mental disturbance as well as the different access to social facilities experienced by people of different social classes. It is generally recognized that the highest pervasiveness of mental disorders such as psychosis is found in women and men living in low social classes. How ever, the association between psychosis and poverty is in one way or another multifaceted. It can be said that the relationship between social class and psychosis is prominent because the living conditions experienced by low social class people promote the commencement of social actuality that are very rigid and limited to an extend that they weaken the individuals’ ability to handle traumatic and difficult  situations ingeniously. Even though such weakening has not been proved to be directly causing psychosis, together with hereditary susceptibility and the amounting stress, it can be a major contributing factor.008, p. 168.

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