Social Issues in the UK
Health and Wealth in the UK
Social Class in the UK
Social class is the term used to indicate a person’s standing in society. There are
various interpretations and measures used but it generally focuses on a person’s
income and background. It is often a controversial issue with many different
interpretations about class and who belongs to each group.
Traditionally Britain was divided into three classes: working, middle and upper.
The poorest of the three groups, usually involving people who
were unemployed or worked in trades e.g. joiners, electricians,
secretaries, etc. These people would have less money, perhaps
need government benefits and not own their own home. This
was the largest of the social classes.
In general terms the middle class were deemed to be between
the other two groups. They were financially better off than the
working class (perhaps made them more likely to own their own
home, etc) without having the wealth or power of the upper
class. This group included doctors, teachers and lawyers.
This group was people who had the most money and power, as
well as coming from similar families. People from aristocratic
backgrounds, or super-rich jobs such as banking, were often seen
to be members. This was the smallest of the social classes.
Since at least the 1970s many people have come to regard these labels as being
unhelpful, mainly because they do not fully explain a person’s background e.g. more
people from ‘working class’ backgrounds now go to university or live in bought
homes, which in the past would have denoted them as middle class. As a result
there are new theories on class:
Walter Runciman argues that there are two groups in modern
society; the economically empowered and unempowered. The
empowered group have financial stability (spare money, would
get another job if they lost it); the unempowered have little
money and, if they lose their job, will struggle to get another.
Will Hutton argues that modern society is split into three parts.
The Bottom 30% live in poverty and are excluded from society;
the Middle 30% live in fear of falling into poverty; only the Top
40% are financially secure.
These are letters assigned to a person depending on their job.
Thus Grades A, B and C1 are middle class (upper middle class,
middle class, lower middle class) whilst Grades C2 and D are
working class (upper working and lower working). Grade E is for
the poorest people e.g. homeless, unemployed
Traditionally people were believed to vote based on their social class. In simple
terms working class voters supported the Labour Party whilst middle and upper
class voters chose the Conservatives. However this is also in dispute now, not least
because of the rise of other parties such as the SNP or Liberal Democrats. In addition
other factors may affect voting too e.g. race, gender, geography, etc.
Poverty and its causes
There are two main definitions of poverty – both of which are controversial. In
simple terms poverty is when someone lives an extremely poor existence, not
having the basic requirements to live in a normal life e.g. food, shelter, etc. However
many people contend that in modern Britain this does not happen and point to the
range of luxury goods that many poor people have e.g. mobile phones, TVs, etc.
Some instead talk about relative poverty. This means that people are deemed to
live in poverty if they are significantly different what most people in the UK have e.g.
even if they have luxury items the fact that they cannot guarantee their income on a
weekly basis, cannot financially plan, etc means they live in poverty.
There are many opinions about the causes of poverty. In general terms though this
is usually blamed on one, some or all of these issues: lack of education or
qualifications, unemployment or job insecurity, low income, where you live,
personal choices and being from a poor background (the ‘cycle of poverty’).
Health issues can play a role, whether this is ill-health (physical or mental) which
stops people working) or addiction issues e.g. drugs, alcohol. A lack of education can
also cause health problems if people are unaware of how to look after themselves.
The Welfare State
The Welfare State is the name given to the different types of benefits and support
that the government provides to people in the UK. It was introduced to ensure that
no member of UK society had to live below a minimum standard and aimed to
tackle five major problems (the ‘Five Giants’):
What this means
This meant people living very
poor lives e.g. no food money
This meant people suffering
Ignorance This meant people with
This meant people living in
poor quality housing
This meant people being
Modern government actions
Job Seeker’s Allowance, State Pension,
Crisis Loans, Fruit/Veg/Milk vouchers
The NHS, healthy living initiatives,
smoking ban, alcohol pricing, etc
Free school education, training &
education opportunities post-school
Council housing, Housing Benefit,
Council Tax Benefit
New Deal, Job Centre Plus, Tax Credits,
Welfare benefits are split into two categories. Universal benefits are available to
everyone, regardless of the money they have e.g. Child Benefit (currently at least),
Winter Fuel Allowance. Means-tested benefits are only given to certain people,
usually based on low incomes e.g. Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit.
A ‘welfare state’ essay question could look at three of the Five Giants, evaluate
modern government actions to tackle these and consider the limitations of these.
Benefits and government policies – examples and facts
UK government benefits
Job Seeker’s Allowance MEANS TESTED. Benefit paid to people out of work and
looking for a job. Different rates based on age; 25+ get £71
per week; age 18-24 get £56.25.
MEANS TESTED. Child Tax Credits are paid to low income
families (working or not). Working Tax Credits paid to low
income workers. Amount you get depends on income.
UNIVERSAL. Benefit given to people with children; worth
£20.30 for first child and £13.40 for other children.
Currently universal but government changing to exclude
people earning £60,000.
MEANS TESTED. Money to pay rent of people on low
incomes (whether they are working or not). NOT for
Council Tax Benefit
MEANS TESTED. Money to pay the Council Tax of people
on low incomes (working or not)
Winter Fuel Allowance UNIVERSAL. Payments to older people to pay heating bills
during winter. Some disabled people get it too. Currently
worth £200 for a single pensioner (below 80).
UNIVERSAL. Weekly payment to men aged 65+ and
women 60+; currently worth £107.45. Universal but must
have paid into it to get full amount. Qualifying ages are
increasing (ultimately going to 68 for men and women).
MEANS TESTED. Benefit for low income pensioners to top
up their income; single pensioners get £142.70 per week
MEANS TESTED. Money paid to low income pupils staying
on at school post-16. Tackle inequality by helping them
afford education rather than working to support family.
UK government policies
The least any worker can be paid. It has different rates
based on age; workers aged 21+ get £6.08 per hour.
Employment programme aimed at getting different groups
into work e.g. young, long-term unemployed, etc. Offered
training and subsidised job experience.
Job Centre Plus
Offices where people can look for work, get advice, meet
with a personal advisor and claim benefits too.
Scheme aimed at helping families living in most
disadvantaged areas. It offers a range of help including
parenting classes, health education, training &
employment opportunities and childcare.
Scottish Government policies
Free Bus Travel
Free national bus travel for all people aged 60+ and some
other groups too e.g. disabled
The Scottish Government scrapped charges for
prescriptions (currently £7.65 per item in England)
Public smoking ban
In 2006 smoking in public places was banned in Scotland.
Led to a 17% reduction in heart attacks
Free central heating
Some people on low incomes are eligible to get free central
heating, or have their boiler replaced.
Why does inequality cause problems?
Social exclusion is when a person cannot participate normally in society; these are
Hutton’s Bottom 30 and Runcimann’s financially unempowered (see page 5). Most
government policies aim to close the wealth gap (between richest and poorest).
Wealth inequalities tend to be caused by parental, employment and educational
background. They usually lead to health inequalities e.g. someone poor may live in
bad housing (affected by damp) which affects their health, such as getting asthma.
Why it’s a problem
Cannot afford basic needs e.g. poor diet,
housing, transport, etc or luxuries
More likely to face mental and physical
Very hard to break out of poverty
Less money to spend on basic items
Longer unemployed = harder to get back
Evidence that children from unemployed
families more likely to be unemployed
too, and do worse in school
Doing badly at school makes
unemployment and poverty when older
much more likely
More likely that poor children will do
badly at school (cycle of poverty)
Makes it harder for people to work e.g.
physically cannot work, stigma
associated with mental health problems
People may have greater financial needs
but cannot afford them
Causes health problems e.g. damp
Makes good education harder e.g.
nowhere to study, concentrate
Benefit, Sure Start,
Tax Credits, Winter
New Deal, Job
Centre Plus, Sure
NHS, smoking ban,
minimum price for
alcohol, Winter Fuel
Council Tax Benefit
What is the main cause of poor health?
Bad health means two key problems: having a higher chance of an early death; and
having a poorer quality of life because of illness. But what is the main cause?
Links to poor health
Other factors and causes
People living in poor communities face Not just about a person’s direct living
multiple problems e.g. unemployment conditions e.g. Inverse Care Law;
leads to mental/physical ill-health,
poorest areas, where health needs
poor housing causes health problems
greatest, often have fewest doctors:
e.g. asthma. Poorest communities
Scottish average, 1 GP per 3000
usually have lowest life expectancy:
people; Shettleston, 1 per 4200. Lack
Scottish average (male), 73; poor
of other services too e.g. if no car,
Glasgow Shettleston, 64; and rich
lack of public transport makes it hard
Glasgow Eastwood, 76.
to travel to medical appointments.
Links to poor health
Other factors and causes
Poor people less able to afford healthy Poorest communities most likely to
living e.g. fruit, veg is expensive. Also
smoke and have alcohol problems;
gym membership, etc too much for
perhaps spending money wrongly.
some people to afford. Low income
Possible link to lack of education too
people more likely to stay in low
e.g. middle class people more likely to
income jobs and have less money for
seek early medical advice, and listen
retirement; unhealthy all their life.
to government health campaigns.
Links to poor health
Other factors and causes
Smoking rates higher in poorest areas; Middle class people unhealthy too.
in fact only areas not to see a
Two-income families have money to
reduction after smoking ban e.g. 70% spend but often lead busy, stressful
of Class AB smokers stopped, only 21% lives. Also problems as people drive
of Class E. People on lowest incomes
more, eat ready meals and drink a lot
have highest consumption of junk food of alcohol. Whilst poor people most at
and less likely to exercise (5 times less risk there is evidence of general
than rich areas).
Scottish lifestyle problems.
Health, Social and Economic inequalities
This section looks at social, economic and health inequalities in more detail. It
discusses action that the government has taken to tackle many of these problems,
but also examines the extent of their success (and failure) to do so.
In answering questions on this topic it is helpful to refer back to page 5 and theories
of social class, in that government actions are designed to reduce these inequalities.
Policies mentioned above, but smoker
Poor Scots have a worse health record
numbers not falling in poor areas.
than rich ones. Men in poor areas twice
Government pays for free school meals
as likely to smoke. Physical and mental
to help diet. Also worth remembering
health issues linked to poverty e.g.
that overall Scotland has poor health
depression, problems caused by damp.
record, middle classes too. Educational
4/5 children in deprived areas have
Maintenance Allowance helps low
rotten teeth. Links to low education and
income youngsters stay on at school. Tax not being able to afford better diet. Poor
credits gave poorer families more
children do worse in education and more
money, and encouraged them to work.
likely to end up in crime.
State Pension (£107.45 per week)
Richer pensioners often benefit from
ensures all elderly have money coming in private/company pensions which can
(although 87% of men get full pension
improve health e.g. not living in poor
compared to 43% of women). Pension
housing. Female pensioners less likely to
Credit (£142.70 per week) gives more
have private/company pension; also less
money to poorest pensioners (but don’t likely to get full State Pension. Poor
all claim it). Winter Fuel Payments have health can be linked to age, job during
cut number of pensioners dying from
working life and lifestyle. Cold weather
cold; Cold Weather Payments help too.
causes big health problems. Some elderly
Government invested more in NHS
suffer from NHS rationing, when scarce
Geriatric Care and dementia medication. resources are allocated to other groups.
Pre-2010 government policies such as
Unemployment at record levels; 2.69
New Deal and Minimum Wage had
million people out of work. 1/4 young
massively reduced unemployment
people (18-21) unemployed. Huge
(especially youth); UK employment rate
problems caused by the Credit Crunch.
rose by 2.5% and N.D. got 750,000 into
Cuts in public spending means less public
work. Tax credits also helped people out sector jobs, often the main employer in
of the ‘benefits trap’ by giving them
poor areas. Many people cannot work
extra money to work and childcare too.
because of a lack of childcare.
INDIVIDUAL LIFESTYLE CHOICES
Various healthy living campaigns e.g.
Scotland has a terrible health record. It
Hungry for Success. Some progress;
has some of the worst rates of obesity in
smoking ban cut overall number of
the world (27% of adults) and problems
smokers; also saw fall in premature
with heart disease and cancer. Part of
babies and a 17% fall in heart-related
the reason for this is Scotland’s diet,
hospital admissions. Government plans
alcohol intake and smoking levels. Big
for minimum price for alcohol may help drug problems too; 43% of methadone
too. Poor people still have worst health. users living Greater Glasgow.
Race, gender and inequalities
This section looks at the role gender and race play in creating inequalities. It also
discusses government action to tackle these problems, and the success of this.
Many ethnic minority (EM) people experience racism. This is often direct racism,
when someone deliberately does something to them because of their race e.g.
assault, name calling. It can also be indirect racism; this is when people do
something which hurts someone from an ethnic minority without realising. Ethnic
minorities also face other problems in terms of health, education, etc.
Race Relations Act 2000 forces public
Ethnic minorities find it hard to get hired
sector employers to ensure racial
(the ‘glass door’) or get a promotion (the
equality in recruitment. 2010 Equality
‘glass ceiling’). Many face direct and
Act lets any employee complain if they
indirect discrimination at work e.g. pub
hear a racist remark at work; employers working lunches exclude Muslims.
are legally obliged to take action. Also
allows employers to discriminate in
Hugh unemployment for EMs; white,
favour of EMs when hiring. No evidence 11%; black, 13%; Bangladeshi, 17%. Few
yet of more EMs being hired. Relevant
senior executives at UK firms are EM.
disciplinary action against employees up 72% of EM police say they have faced
73% between Oct 2010 and April 2011.
racism at work.
INCOME, POVERTY AND HEALTH
No specific EM policies but government
EMs more likely than white people to live
action on employment (above) could
in poverty (white, 18%; black, 45%). EMs
help tackle low pay and poverty in the
also face lower average wages (white,
long term. General government action to £8/hour; Pakistani, £6.25/hour). EMs
improve health e.g. smoking ban,
most likely to experience poor health
Healthy Living adverts may help in the
e.g. Pakistanis 50% more health
long run too.
complaints than whites.
Court and Disorder Act 1998 allows
Many EMs face huge racism problems,
courts to impose tougher sentences on
including assault, name calling and other
attackers (but ignored by racist thugs).
discrimination. Between 2004 and 2005
One Scotland advert campaign aimed to racial assaults rose by 13%. Problems in
educate Scots about varied nature of
recent times in Scotland with religious
population but in 2009 82% of Scots
discrimination e.g. anti-Muslim after
couldn’t remember the campaign.
Glasgow Airport terrorist attacks, etc.
Women face many types of discrimination too. As with racism some of this is direct
and other aspects indirect. Although women make up just over half the UK
population they are less likely to get promoted and more likely to earn a low wage.
Most gender legislation is aimed at helping women in the workplace.
GETTING A GOOD JOB
Equality Act 2010 legally guarantees that On average women earn 15% less than
a woman doing the same job as a man
men; 64% of low paid workers are
should get equal pay; pay gap has slightly women. Women more likely to be in lownarrowed in recent years. The law also
income, part-time jobs (often because of
lets employers favour women when
family responsibilities). Some employers
hiring. Tax credits include childcare
may be reluctant to hire a woman e.g. if
support, helping women get a job.
they have a baby or might get pregnant.
2010 Equality Act makes it illegal to
Women face a ‘glass ceiling’ where they
discriminate because of gender. Change can’t get promoted past a certain level;
already happening; in Edinburgh Council only 11% of UK company directors are
56% of top earners are women, figure
women. 2011 survey found 73% of
used to be 20%. More women going into female managers say they face problems
professions e.g. law and also doing
getting promoted. This is for the same
better in education. Long-term this
reasons they find it hard to get hired and
should lead to more promoted women.
is part of the reason women earn less.
KEEPING A JOB
Illegal to discriminate because of
Even when women get work they cannot
pregnancy; Equal Opportunities
always keep it. Sometimes this is
Commission has taken companies doing because they find it too difficult to meet
so to court. Work and Families Act 2006 all personal duties e.g. childcare costs. It
extended time maternity pay can be paid can also be because they are fired e.g.
and guaranteed that job would be held
30,000 women per year lose their jobs
for woman’s return.
because they get pregnant.
Collectivism versus Individualism (Public versus Private)
Collectivism versus individualism is the debate about whether the government
should help people or whether individuals should take personal responsibility.
Collectivists believe that society is better off if everyone (including the government)
works together and helps each other; individualists believe people should be
responsible for themselves. Traditionally Labour is Collectivist whilst the
Conservatives favour Individualism, although some people say this has changed.
ORIGINAL AIMS OF THE WELFARE STATE
Welfare State’s original aims were to be Original Welfare State was designed as a
universal (from the ‘cradle to the grave’); safety net, not for a life on benefits; it
this means the government should help has created a ‘dependency culture’. The
everyone. Also the fact that all people
Welfare State’s founders had no idea it
pay taxes entitles them to government.
would grow so big or cost so much.
EXAMPLES OF GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION
Government action helps improve lives
It’s up to individuals how they live their
e.g. Scottish smoking ban has resulted in life, not the government. In any case
17% less people going to hospital for
some government policies e.g. minimum
heart attacks. Minimum alcohol prices
alcohol price only affects poor people;
could help too. The 1997-2010 Labour
middle class drinkers will be unaffected.
government also saw a huge reduction in Poverty reduction 1997-2010 was down
poverty thanks to policies such as Tax
to strong economy creating jobs, not the
Credits, Sure Start and the New Deal.
government creating benefits.
EXAMPLES OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY
If individual approach doesn’t work
The government gives people a home,
society has to pay e.g. crime, prisons.
education, healthcare; if people want
Extreme social exclusion causes major
more they should work for it. Benefits
problems e.g. 2011 English riots. More
create ‘poverty trap’. Patronising to tell
equal societies have better health,
poor people they can’t help themselves
economies, health records, etc.
e.g. what about Duncan Bannatyne?
Health and Wealth in the UK
Past Paper questions
“The UK’s Welfare State continues to meet its aims.” Discuss.
Critically examine the view that Government has failed to reduce
gender or race inequalities in the UK.
“Poverty is the most important factor that affects health.” Discuss.
“Health and welfare provision should be the responsibility of
Individual lifestyle choices limit good health more than any other
To what extent have government policies reduced gender and/or
Assess the impact of income on health.
Critically examine the success of recent government policies to reduce
Assess the effectiveness of government policies to reduce gender and
Critically examine the view that government, not individuals, should
be responsible for health care and welfare provision.
To what extent are the founding principles of the Welfare State being
To what extent do social and economic inequalities continue to exist
in the UK?