Poverty and Social Exclusion

Poverty Social Exclusion

Is social exclusion just a new term for poverty? Discuss.

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This essay will begin by defining the key terminologies used within the main text, beginning with the two definitions of poverty; moving onto the definition of social exclusion, and the reasons the term was introduced, debating the different types of exclusion. The central part of this essay will conclude whether poverty still exist, or has social exclusion replaced the term, as a bid for New Labour to gain power? Furthermore it will give general facts about poverty within the U.K and the extent to which it is effecting out lifes. Levitas (1998), because it is important to get a basic idea of the type of literature that is available. Levitas (1998) combines most of the literature on social exclusion into concise three models: Redistribution Discourse (RED), Social Integration Discourse (SID) and Moral Underclass Discourse (MUD). With these models there is a brief description of the main focuses, solutions and criticisms. Finally the essay will give an analogy into the relationship between the social exclusion model and poverty and certain policies that have been put in place to tackle the issues, leaving way for a final conclusion that will sum up the main context of this essay.

Poverty has been separated into two main definitions: Absolute, which describes a basic income that can provide a sufficient level of primary needs, such as food, water and shelter. It was coined at the end of the 19th century, he devised a basic dietary requirement in 1899, known as the ‘basket of goods’, this list of food Rowntree argued was required for a healthy lifestyle. (Rowntree, 1901). The second, relative poverty, this is a viewing poverty in comparison to the physical possession of others (Townsend, 1971). This definition helps us to measure the gap between the rich and the poor in relation to goods, services and activities considered ‘normal’ by the majority of the populations. This is primarily the dominant definition used when measuring poverty.

Due to the narrowness of the two poverty definitions, it has, along side other inequalities such as race, ethnicity and gender, ‘generated the injustices’ of social exclusion:

“Poverty Studies have concentrated on lack of access to material resources. The concept of social exclusion provides a framework to look at the social relations to power and control.”

(Williams and Pillinger, 1996:6)

The contested term social exclusion has said to adapt the inadequate definitions of poverty, realising that other factors such as ‘lack of social, cultural and physical resources’ (Howarth and Kenway, 1998: 80) also add to the components of poverty. It was mainly introduced as New Labours solution to the reluctance of using the term ‘poverty’, as they desired power they considered it necessary to move away from the negative connotation of the ‘underclass’ . This terms usage has rapidly increased with Britain, partly because of how broad the definition can be. Generally theorists take conflicting stances on the exact terminology. Some define social exclusion as a sub-group of the poor, who have not been given as many opportunities and have often been at a disadvantage, while others see it as a ‘less acute but more widely experienced condition than poverty’ (Howarth and Kenway, 1998: 80). An alternative view differentiates between poverty and social exclusion, adding a multidimensional concept such as deprivation, highlighting the most underprivileged and disadvantages sections of society. Through statistical analysis it’s clear to see that there is links between education and poverty; the higher the education which is received is said to directly contribute to the employability of the person and give an advantage towards working in higher-paid occupations (Duffy, 1998), thus indirectly leading to better housing, status and inclusion into society. Barnes (2002) states that there are four main groups at ‘risk’ of being marginalised: youths, lone parents, sick/disabled and the retied.

Sen (2000) makes a distinction between two different types of exclusion, firstly active exclusion, which consists of deliberate policy or action to the denial of social rights. Secondly, passive exclusion, that is mainly focused on social or economical circumstances such as unemployment.

However after deciphering definitions of poverty and social exclusion, the next element to this essay is to answer the question; what precisely is the relationship between social exclusion and poverty? Lister (2004) stated that the relationship between ‘social isolation’ and ‘poverty’ is particularly important when considering an answer to this question, because ‘as an indicator of lack of integration into solidaristic social networks, social isolation represents the essence of social exclusion within the ‘solidarity paradigm’ (84)

The relationship between social exclusion and poverty is not always clear, however it is important to emphasis that social exclusion has not replaced poverty as a concept, but rather includes poverty as part of a wider understanding of the process, and thus that social exclusion is not just a ‘new form poverty’. Social exclusion has been known to be ambivalent, sometimes is can be ‘identified as an effect of poverty, and sometimes as a cause’ (lister,:82)

Poverty within the U.K is not only nasty, but also increasing; here are some interesting facts about the poverty, and the extent to which it has affected the U.K: in 2003/4 one in five of the British population live below the low income threshold, nearly two times higher that in the late 1970s. Another fact that displays the rise of poverty in the U.K is 6million adults are unable to afford essential clothing. These figures are alarming, and displays how severe and significant the persistent problem of poverty is.

However an issue that needs to be addressed is; is it really possible to be poor but not socially excluded? All authors that write about social exclusion mention poverty, no one has disputed that it is not a key indicator. Levitas (1998) analyses the literature around the subject, ad provides three key social policies relating to the causes and solutions of social exclusion. She dubs these discourses; Redistribution Discourse (RED), Social Integration Discourse (SID) and Moral ‘Underclass’ Discourse (MUD). The first RED is firmly linked with to poverty, it sees social exclusion as both a consequence and cause of poverty, its aims are to tackle poverty and redistribute the wealth, and more recently power. Its solution is mainly focused creating an inclusive society, which is what Lister states, is the antonym of social exclusion. Lister was criticised by Dean and Melrose (1999) who “states that they opposite of exclusion is not inclusion but integration” (31). SID, a social integrationist discourse, again sees social exclusion as a cause of poverty, but this time through the means of unemployment. Their solution is to support the unemployed whilst encouraging them to fins work, effectively making sure everyone is economically active. This discourse was criticised for a number of reasons, firstly it did not consider other elements that could lead to social exclusion, as it is possible to be employed but still socially excluded though; low income, working long hours and employment segregation (Dean and Melrose, 1999). Secondly it does not actively consider the role of discrimination or prejudice in creating social exclusion (Gallie and Paugam, 2002). Finally MUD (right wing version), which places an increases emphasis on moral and cultural causes of poverty, and the ‘dangerous class’, the solution to social exclusion as Levitas states is full employment, with a reduction in benefits and return to traditional family values, in particular reducing the number of lone parents, and never married mothers). Criticised for blaming socially excluded for their own social exclusion, glossing over structural causes and stress the negative effect of welfare in terms of increasing ‘dependency’ (Jackson, 1999). However although Levitas has pointed out that all literature implied that social exclusion must have an element of poverty to it, she has been criticised; for it is possible to be poor and not socially excluded; students are a prime example of this (Oppenhiem, 1998).

From Levitas’ analyse of discourses, it is very clear to see that has not just replaced the term poverty, but has become a complex concept in its own right; however there is a connection between the two terms. Lister (2004) explored the relationship between poverty and social exclusion via an empirical and conceptual level. Empirical link between the social exclusion and poverty is presented in the form of causal/sequential trajectory. Walker and Parker follow a sequential trajectory of moving from income poverty to social exclusion, “involving a simultaneous process of detachment from social institutions”(1998: 40). Supporting this sequential trajectory is the Council of Europe, who believes that living in rundown areas, underemployment and not supported by the welfare makes poverty sequentially move into socially exclusion. Room adopts a more qualitative difference, where he argues that primarily:

“…social exclusion, understood in its core sense, is associated with intense ‘multidimensional’ disadvantage carrying with it the connotation of separation and permenance, and repents rupture or catastrophic discontinuity in relationships with the rest of society, which is to some considerable degree irreversible

(1999, 171: 2000)

In summary of the sequential/causal poverty, it can lead to social inequality, but also as Sen (2000) points out, it can also go in the opposite direction, social inequality can, in fact, cause poverty and deprivation.

Having explored the empirical view it is now move onto the conceptual level, here the issue centres around the ‘value added’ that social exclusion adds to poverty (Micklewood, 2002: 28). This exploration will begin with a bit of scepticism, Oyen criticises this model because she feels that the sicken truth of the reality of poverty is shielded by the ‘umbrella’ of social exclusion. Rights and regulation, Room (1995) argues that social exclusion requires a connection to wider society, from which they one can be excluded from. This was dismissed for being to simplistic (Bhalla and Lapeyre, 1999). Social divisions for Williams, F:

Allows us to look at issues to do with social and cultural injustices generated by inequalities of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age and disability and the ways these may intersect and be compounded by issues of distribution”

(1998: 15)

Fact, the more unequal a society in terms of distribution resources, the more poverty there is in that society, and thus less likely that those at the top of the hierarchy will identify with those at the bottom and be sympathetic to redistributive policies designed to improve the position of the most poor. The most important issue that should be discussed in society about social exclusion and poverty is how are we going to eliminate them? As each concept is said to complement, rather than replace each other, it is able to produce more informed policies at tackling this issue.

Since Labour was elected, in 1997 there has been an increasing emphasis on employment as a strategy to decrease ‘social exclusion’. Employment was encouraged, rather than having to rely on the welfare state to distribute the wealth through policies like tax and benefits (Robinson, 1998). Policies such as ‘Welfare to work’ and the enforcement of a minimum wage made employment appear more desirable. These policies were created in response to the increasing belief that our society had become too dependant on the welfare state to help supply them with their primary needs.

Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister launched a ‘Social Exclusion Unit’ (SEU) in December 1997 in an effort to tackle poverty and thus social exclusion, as it created the aim “joined-up policies for joined-up problems”(SEU,2004:7) overcoming the previous ‘obstacles’ (Hamworth and Kenway, 1998)

In conclusion, social exclusion has not replaced poverty but it does include poverty, however it is important to remember not all poor people are social excluded. The horrible reality is that income inequality and poverty appears as if it is here to stay. There have been many criticisms of the social exclusion as a new concept, because many feel that it will shield away the harshness of reality, and thus will create more problems in the future. However, when considering all the facts; poverty may be a cause of social exclusion, however if poverty is linked then indirectly so deprivation. In the case where we alleviate all elements combined to create poverty, then social exclusion will still exist. Due to the multi-dimensional aspect of the definition, sub-cultures are excluded based on other socially constructed issues such as age, ethnicity, race and gender. So until all issues are alleviated, some more drastically than others. Then Britain as a society will continue to exclude certain groups based on many different aspects of their life.



Duffy, K (1998) ‘Combating Social Exclusion and Promoting Social Intergration in the European Union’. In C, Oppenheim (ed) ‘An Inclusive Society: Strategies for Tackling Poverty’. London: IPPR

Howarth, C and Kenway, P (1998) ‘A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Social Exclusion Indicators’. In C, Oppenheim (ed) ‘An Inclusive Society: Strategies for Tackling Poverty’. London: IPPR

Mulgan, G (1998) ‘ Social Exclusion: Joined up solutions to joined up problems’. In C, Oppenheim (ed) ‘An Inclusive Society: Strategies for Tackling Poverty’. London: IPPR

Robinson, P (1998) ‘Employment and Social inclusion’. In C, Oppenheim (ed) ‘An Inclusive Society: Strategies for Tackling Poverty’. London: IPPR

Rowntree, S (1901) ‘Poverty: a Study of Town Life’. London: Nelson

Social Exclusion Unit (1997) Social exclusion Unit: purpose, work priorities and working methods Briefing document. London: Cabinet Office

Townsend, P (1979) ‘Poverty in the U.K’. London: Penguin

Williams, F and Pillinger, J (1996) ‘New Thinking on Social Policies Research into Inequality, Social Exclusion and Poverty’. In J, Miller and J Bradshaw (eds) ‘Social Welfare Systems: Towards a Research Agenda’. Bath Social Policy Papers, No.24. Bath: Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy

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