He thinks that job and training opportunities have little effect, as the underclass is unlikely to exploit them. He believes that the only way to help underclass communities is to encourage self-governance. In this participation they are to have power over education, housing, criminal justice and benefit systems. He believes that if people have to change the way in which they live, they can do it how they wish. In my eyes this is just another way of washing your hands of problems that are unsolvable. “Money isn’t the key. Authentic self-government is” (Murray 1990). Is this just the easy way out?
“….. generous people have to stop kidding themselves”(Murray 1990). I find this attitude very elitist and narrow -minded and feel that in my opinion it is the duty of the government to help people in anyway possible, help themselves. So how big is Britain’s underclass? It is very difficult to determine this, as many people in the underclass do not have permanent residence or telephone numbers. However, it is difficult to determine whether Britain has nearly as huge a problem as in the States. The worry is that the underclass could become the spreading ‘disease’ that it has in the US.
I believe it is very difficult to use illegitimacy as a measure as society and social structure has changed over the years and it is not now seen as such a faux pas to have a child out of wedlock as it once was. Murray believes that child benefit has effect the way in which women view having children. While middle class women would not consider having children to gain benefits, as it is below their means, lower class women may consider having further children as away of staying on benefit (Murray 1990). Murray believes that this is a relatively new phenomenon due to the increase in benefits given to single mothers since the 1960’s.
Figures for the number of lone mothers on Child Benefit have gone up from 238,000 in 1971 to 578,000 in 1986, do support Murray’s theories of the underclass. However, it must be recognized that Murray’s figures on the US’s lone mother on child benefit, did not differentiate between those that were divorcees or widowed and those that were born out of wedlock. These are very important differences to note. It has also been found that lone mothers that have never been married, loose this title through marriage faster than those that are divorced.
Recent figures show that infact over half of children born out of wed lock were infact in a two parent home, with a mother and a father. Therefore it must be assumed that this cannot be used as an indicator of the underclass in Britain? It is the belief of Joan Brown that Murray’s thesis was ‘exaggerated’ for effect. She also feels that Murray does not recognise the need for good family policy, and feels that it would only harm future generations of children to inflict self-governance on communities. I found that are many factors that have not been considered in Murray’s examination of the underclass.
In the US, much of the social class system has to do with ethnicity and race, while here in Britain there are a higher proportion of white natives in the underclass. We must remember also, our postcolonial society saw huge immigration into Britain, so why is it that Britain is so different to the US? Another notion that Murray suggests is that the underclass is regenerated through bad parenting from one generation to the next. Sir Keith Joseph, a Thatcherite guise during the 1970’s, first suggested this to him. Alan Walker described this as: “…
fits neatly into this ideological and theoretical legacy, with its characteristic mixture of popular stereotypes, prejudice about the cause of poverty and ill-founded quasi-scientific notions. ” (Walker in Murray 1990). Later, a study carried out by Sir Joseph costing i?? 1 million, showed no links between generations and poverty. Can this idea really be taken as evidence for Murray’s argument? It is not to say that I do not agree with Murray’s contention of an underclass, I believe that there is a section of society that need help and I do not agree with his characteristics for defining such a thing.
I find his simplistic way of categorising social behaviour, frustrating, inaccurate and too generalised. I also feel that there are to many discrepancies in scientific evidence for the existence of an underclass in Britain, as pointed out by Alan Walker in Murray’s 1990, Emerging British Underclass. I do not feel that in today’s society, illegitimacy (a term that was abolished by the Family Law Reform Act in 1987) can be true indicator of the underclass. I feel that this is a far more complex society and generalisations cannot be made.
I therefore believe that it becomes very difficult to define a class system in absolute terms. But is there a need to? Surely the most important role here is to help those that need help in every way possible. I also think that it is the responsibility of the state to provide adequate housing, jobs, amenities and education, though it is the responsibility of individuals to take advantage of them.
References Abercrombie, N. Ward, A. Soothill, K. Urry, J and Walby, S. (1994) Contemporary British Society. Second Edition. Polity Press.Cambridge. UK Hutton, Will. (1994) Why Inequality Doesn’t Work. Chapter 7 in ‘The State we’re in” Lewis, Oscar. (1966). “The Culture of Poverty” from Scientific American. Mann, Kirk. (1992) The Making of an English ‘Underclass’? The Social divisions of Welfare and labour. Open University Press. Milton Keynes. UK. Murray, Charles (1984) ‘Choosing a Future’ from Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980. Murray, Charles. (1990). The Emerging British Underclass. The IEA Health and Welfare Unit. Choice in Welfare Series No.
2 London UK Murray, Charles. (1994) Charles Murray and the underclass, The Developing debate, The Emerging British Underclass and Underclass: the crisis deepens. The institute of Economic affairs and Choice in Welfare No. 33. London UK Murray, Charles. (1994). Underclass: The crisis deepens. Choice in Welfare Series No. 20 and IEA in association with The Sunday Times. London UK Roberts, Ken. (2001). Class in Modern Britain. Palgrave. Basingstoke UK Wilson, William. (1984) “The Black Underclass” Wilson Quarterly.