How poverty in the UK today. I will describe

How might
sociological theories offer useful insights into the socially constructed
nature of many of the social problems encountered by social workers




 In this assignment I
intend to visit the problem of pensioner poverty in the UK today. I will
describe what pensioner poverty is and how sociological theories may offer
insights into how it is constructed. I will also describe how C Wright Mills
talks about the sociological imagination and how this could help social workers
to understand pensioner poverty.

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Poverty is the state or condition of having little or no
money, goods or means of support, condition of being poor, indigence’


Individuals in the population are said to be in poverty when
they lack the resources to participate in activities and have the living
conditions and amenities which are customary or approved in the society to
which they belong.There are two types of poverty relative poverty and absolute
poverty. Absolute poverty is the minimum needed to sustain life. Relative
poverty is lack of money, which people in poverty need to provide them with
enough food, clothes, fuel and social inclusion with their friends and local
communities.There has been a reduction in pensioner poverty in this country
over the last four decades. In the 70s and 80s, 40% of pensioners in this
country lived in poverty, as a society We’ve got that figure now right down to
14%. As good as this is it is still a problem faced by many pensioners living
amongst us. An estimated 1.9 million pensioners were in poverty in 2015/16, out
of a total 12 million across the UK.


Why was there a difference in earlier decades? Pensioner
poverty tends to increase in times of high economic growth, according to past
research. That’s because the incomes of people in work can rise a lot faster
than prices during these periods, while pensions tended in the past to track
prices more closely. Meaning that pensions do not rise at the same rate. This
can see the working age individuals pulling ahead leaving pensioners behind and
unable to afford basic amenities.


When prices go up especially with fuel and food. The worry
goes up, in the winter months and if they haven’t got enough money for both
they may have to choose just one if any. In the UK today 1 in 6 pensioners in
the are living in on or below the poverty line. The rising prices for fuel and
food means during the winter means sometimes pensioners find themselves having
too choose between the two. Rising energy prices, leaky and energy inefficient
housing and low incomes have resulted in a catastrophic fuel poverty situation
that we find ourselves in today. With 1.14 million older people in England
living in fuel poverty. and, most shamefully there were 31,000 ‘excess winter
deaths’ in England and Wales last winter. Most of these deaths occurred in
people aged 75 and over. As well as the health effects such as respiratory
problems and depression to name a few that living in a cold home can cause.
There are also the social effects to consider such as social isolation with
some people having to make stark choices between heating their home or buying
the food they need.

Pensioners that are living on low, fixed incomes may only be
getting by because of their resourcefulness and determination of avoiding
getting into any debt. Some pensioners can be proud and unwilling to ask for
help. Many people do not realise when they’re entitled to benefits, but also
says some feel too proud or embarrassed to claim, while others find the process
of claiming too intrusive. (Age , Uk)


They may be suffering in silence and not expressing how hard
life has become for them. Thing such as bills, shopping using coupons or
looking for the cheapest deals or going without may be some of the daily
struggles they have. Older people are not taking up the full range of benefits
available to them, with a massive amount up to £5.5 billion going unclaimed
each year. There are several big barriers which prevent older people living in
poverty from claiming crucial means-tested benefits like Pension Credit.
Sometimes this can be down to a Lack of knowledge and even knowing what’s
available to them. Not knowing enough about pensioner benefits has been
identified as a key factor behind older people not applying for them.Sometimes
pensioners assume that they would not be eligible. When in reality they would
be. The vast majority of older people say they would make a claim if they
believed they were eligible. However, often older people assume this extra
money is only for those who are worse off than they are, or that being a home
owner automatically disqualifies them which is incorrect.


Also there is sometimes a reluctance to claim benefits Older
people may feel that there is a stigma attached to being a ‘benefit claimant’ a
term they may not want attached to them. With their incomes becoming stretched.
Some older people who struggle daily may be worried if their money was to run
out. Worries such as:  Cost of care. This
could include what they may have currently or if they needed it in the future. According
to the latest figures from November there were 1.9 million people claiming
pension credit, or 2.2 million if you include their partners, although there
has been research suggesting that about one-third of people entitled to it are
not claiming.


Sociology offers many theories as to why poverty exists in
our society I have looked at what insights funtionalist, Marxist and feminist
perspectives could have on the issue of pensioner poverty.

Functionalism is a perspective created by Emile Durkheim. He
believed society was made up of inter-connected institutions (for example
education, family, government) which depended on each other to function.

Functionalists see society as being similar to the human
body. In the same way the body relies on the heart to pump blood round to other
vital organs like the lungs and brain. Functionalists see society as being
constructed of different inter-dependent components like the family and
education. (reference)

Functionalists believe that poverty is a positive function
for all of Society although it is so hard to think of any benefits that could
come from being in poverty. Functionalism is interested in large-scale
structural explanations of social life therefore poverty is understood in terms
of the benefits that provides. For example pensioner poverty means more and
more older people are remaining in work until a later age as they just can’t
afford not too. This means there are more people willing to work for a low wage
, helping to ensure the profit and function of some industries.


Poverty also provides jobs for doctors and nurses , If
people don’t get ill they would be out of work, Charitable organisations would also
cease to exist meaning those working within them would be out of work also. Poverty
also offers reassurance to the rest of society in some way, Poverty gives us
something to measure ourselves against , If we can see we are doing better than
those on the poverty line it drives us to work harder. If we can see pensioners
in poverty it will also help to drive us to save money to ensure we do not find
ourselves in the same predicaments when we are in old age.


Marxism first introduced by Karl Marx he argued that poverty
benefits The higher classes as there’s always people willing to do lower paid
jobs to keep the economy flourishing. The existence of poverty and unemployment
and there is always a reserve army of individuals willing to work later into
life. Capitalism and the bourgeoisie therefore benefit for the from the
existence of poverty . According to this view, the major cause of poverty is
inequality. Inequality in the form of uneven distribution of the wealth. A main
consequence of capitalism. There is a considerable controversy about poverty
and its relationship within inequality. From one point of view, any society
with inequality is bound to have poverty. In other words, poverty is more likely
to occur in a society which allows inequality. Social inequality means that
certain individuals or groups have more material or resources than others, for
example a young workers wage increasing alongside inflation – Or a bankers
receiving a bonus in  reflection of an
old persons pension remaining the same. 
This creates a capitalist society.

I also wanted to also look at at feminists perspective of
poverty . Feminist perspectives would argue that some pensioner poverty would
stem partly from females in the UK living longer so needing to live of an old
age pension for longer. A pension that has been mentioned previously is
increasing at a very slow rate.

‘A woman born in 1951 will have been 15 when she left school
to start work; 24 when the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Act came into
force; 32 when the Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value Amendment was added; 43
when every working woman won the right to take maternity leave. She will have
experienced direct and indirect sexism both at home and in the workplace –
marital rape was legal until 1991 – and had little personal or state support in
caring for dependants. If she was married, the unpaid labour she contributed in
the home will have meant more money in her husband’s pocket, not hers’. (the

So it may also become a factor that female pensioners that
have spent their younger lives looking after the family and the home, and may
have lived their life relying financially upon a husband . One of the issues
here could be that they have no private pension to fall back on. This could
become a bigger probl;em if they were then to find themselves widowed and
surving off their pension alone.


 C Wright Mills
introduced the idea of the sociological imagination.

‘Mills defined
sociological imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between
experience and the wider society.” C Wright Mills

He encouraged people to think of all the issues political
and personal that may have influenced how an individual or group has come to
find themselves where they are in regards to problems and issues they may have
such as pensioners finding themselves in poverty. He implied that we look at
our own problems as social issues. Mills recommended that social scientists
should work within the field as a whole, Instaed of just concentrating on their
own area of expertise. This idea is often ignored. He argued that it was
important for socologists too transform personal problems into public and political




As social workers it is important that we try to understand
the society in whuch we work, Why is pensioner poverty a rising pro