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11,546,000 or 23% of the population in England alone are below the poverty line (Child Poverty Action Group updated 2010). Poverty can be classed as a state of living that denies someone of education, shelter and even food. It is a situation of where people want to escape; it is argued that in some cases this can mean they will do what ever it takes, such as commit a crime. There are many factors and theories that contribute to the link between poverty and crime. In this text, issues such as social deprivation, social class and geographical crime will be studied and debated to uncover whether poverty is the main link to crime in Britain today.
The term underclass has for many years had a right-wing response to understanding the relationship between poverty and crime. Right realism focuses on the individual characteristics, meaning that individuals have no self control and would rather choose to commit crimes as well as being unemployed and in poverty. In support of this was the work of Charles Murray (1984 - 1990). Murray supports the behavioural perspective, he didn't believe that the issue was that individuals were poor, but of a characteristic of them not being respectable. Murray then goes further to define underclass into three main characteristics: illegitimacy, violent crime and economic inactivity. Murray suggested that all these characteristics are linked to an over-generous welfare system, resulting in female single parent families. This meaning that without a positive male role model, young males will avoid social norms of marriage and family but rather live on welfare benefits and be involved in illegal activities. Not surprisingly Murray's theory attracted a lot of criticism. For example single parent families are found in every social class therefore can not be defined as underclass. Also Britain still has one of the highest rates for divorce which would mean in Murray's case that a high proportion of the UK would be underclass. This could also be heavily argued against Murray's statement that crime is a result of illegitimacy.
Prior to entering prison 63% of prisoners were renting from a local authority or housing association. 58% of women and 53% of men in prison identified unemployment and educational skills as an issue contributing to their offending. (Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile June 2009). Issues with lack of housing and poor educational are regularly being linked with an 'underclass' society. Burglaries and vandalism that take place in deprived areas may have particularly severe impacts on the poorest, many of whom are also subject to repeat and multiple victimizations (Carrabine et al, 2006). In relation to this is the 'left realism' approach to class in crime; Young (1986) suggest that 'crime is a very real source of suffering for the poor and the vulnerable'. He then draws the attention to the fact that most crime is intra- class. However left-realism has been criticized for being narrow-minded and only explaining crime on the street. It still doesn't challenge class-based crime as it overlooks crimes such as environmental pollution and corporate crime.
The strain theory could be another factor to contribute to the question of, does poverty cause crime? Robert Merton (1938) adapted from the concept of anomie to create the strain theory. The idea in strain theory is in the name, it focuses on strains on an individual and whether they will be involved in criminal behaviours to reduce the strain.
He suggested that crime was down to the unequal opportunities in society. As our society is based on success in terms of wealth, then crime is expected to increase when opportunities to achieve success are restricted. (Chris Hale et al, 2009). Due to recession and levels of unemployment being higher than ever; it is likely the inequality will increase. This could result in people feeling as though they have fail by not being able to reach society's goals; and therefore more likely to resort in criminal activities to achieve their aim. The theory is continuingly being linked to 'lower class' people in poverty. As they have similar aspirations to middle and upper people but lack the means to achieve them, they are more likely to feel failure and strain leading to criminal behaviour.
Famous criminologist's such as Lombroso have mostly focused on the physical appearance of criminals and debated on upon inherited genes as indicators of crime. However it is still only recently that environmental factors have been taken into consideration. By participant observation and interviews, the Chicago School has been one of the most relevant pieces of research focusing on the way in which modern cities expand from their centre with the inner city representing as a run-down area. (john Harrison et al). The idea behind the theory was that as we are contemporary society and forever changing, cities would start to expand to accommodate for a business district. Then the central city would in a way be forgotten about and less money would be put into those areas resulting in the community being hit by poverty. In connection to crime, the metropolitan police crime map show that inner city areas have the highest crime rates-
These are the poverty hit areas of London who also have the highest crime rate, which could explain that less funded communities could result in citizens in these areas resorting to crime as a way to live more comfortably.
However it could be argued that these poverty areas do not have any more crime than other communities. It could purely be the fact that these areas have been stereotyped to have high crime so police have focused on these areas and have become over policed. This means that if more officers are looking for crimes to happen then this is going to affect statistics and add to the stereotype of high crime in poverty.
It has been argued that stereotyping of societies, crime and social class have been made more predominate by the media. The media often describe the underclass in behavioural terms as criminals, alcoholics, and drug addicts (Gans 1995). This links in with the labelling theory created by Howard Becker. His view was that deviance is the creation of social groups and not the act or behaviour. According to Becker (1963), studying the act of the individual is unimportant because deviance is simply rule breaking behaviour that is labelled deviant by persons in positions of power. This can mean that if the media are labelling certain individuals in poverty hit communities instead of focusing on the act of crime it's self that could of happen in any area, then this can lead to society having an embedded stereotype of certain communities. Consequently, individuals could adopt the form of behaviour that the label was intended to prevent. (John Harrison et al). This would then create the vicious cycle of stereotyping that the poor are mostly criminals.
In relation to this, sociologist Stanley Cohen (1972) stated that the mass media had glamorized crime through cinema, music, computer games and internet porn. He believed that this undermines the moral authority of society and by exaggerating the risks of crime it can lead to being stimulated to or trigger violent crimes. This shows that there doesn't have to be a certain social class that is more likely to commit crime through interpreting media. As crime is being glamorized it could stimulate anyone to want to be involved in illegal activities.
There is also the issue of the media creating moral panic within society. The case of Damilola Tayor, aged 10 who was stabbed to death in South London in 2000 was used by the media to symbolise all that was wrong with Britain. Rational explanations for why the crime occurred were not the concern of the press; rather they chose to focus the attention on the difference between innocence and evil. The media however did not stop there, even more moral questions were to be raised, for instance the guardian newspaper asked - 'why did 'we' as a society allow this to happen?'; 'if society had have been more vigilant this crime would never have happened'. The moral message that is being said is that we are all guilty, and we must make sure it never happens. However this kind of coverage could be interpreted negatively, for example if the media are focused on knife crime in poverty areas then moral panic will increase in those communities and this could lead to more individuals carrying knives for a sense of protection and again adding to a possible vicious cycle of knife crime.
There are many factors that contribute to the term poverty and crime. A lot of research from sociologist and criminologist such as Charles Murray would suggest that crime is the result of people in poverty and that individuals choose to be in that position of living. Even crime statistics indicate that people in a poor state of living are more likely to commit crime. However it may be the factors that cause poverty such as economical, environmental and society's social structure that creates crime.