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To think the word 'underclass' is actually pretty offensive

(84 Posts)
ScrambledSmegs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:10:20

Since the riots started I've been seeing and hearing a lot of comments about a so-called 'underclass', both in the national press and from people I know. I've honestly not seen that word since my days doing history at school, and I remember back then thinking that it was unpleasant. As far as my aged brain can recall, it's another word for 'undeserving poor', one of the phrases the Victorian sociologists came up with to justify their dismissal of an entire swathe of society. Why is it suddenly back in vogue again?

As far as I'm concerned it's inaccurate. I live in London, reasonably close to the riots in Hackney, and I've seen the riots and after-effects first hand. I don't want to get into everything I saw and my own interpretations, but honestly, lumping the rioters into one homogeneous mass is simplisitic in the extreme.

Is it just me? Am I over-thinking it?

Nancy66 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:14:31

When 'underclass' is used today it means the 'Shameless' generation: uneducated, never to be employed, mass breeding, no respect, no empathy and sense of law and order.

You're not really talking about poverty as such

spookshowangel Thu 11-Aug-11 11:20:02

may as well call them bottom feeders and be done really.

ScrambledSmegs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:30:16

I'm sorry Nancy but I find the idea of a Shameless generation completely ridiculous. It's a story created and fanned by certain sections of the media. Most young people don't feel that way, even around the riot hotspots of Tottenham and Hackney.

Exactly, spookshowangel. That's how I feel too.

Nancy66 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:35:33

Shamless is a fictional TV programme, yes. But the reality is that there are thousands of families that live like that.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 11-Aug-11 11:44:21

YABU.... I think 'underclass' is a good definition for the minority of people living on the wrong side of the law, with low values/morals/personal standards, engaged in the black economy and not participating in mainstream society in any useful way. We used to say 'underworld' for the criminal fraternity and I think it stems from there. To lump them in with the 'working class' would be insulting...

ScrambledSmegs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:45:53

There are plenty of people who've always lived like that, Nancy, it's nothing new. What I object to is the use of labels like 'underclass' as it effectively writes them off. If they're an 'underclass' the implication is that they're worthless and we don't have to care about them or their children. I'm not a bleeding heart, if you do something wrong you should be punished, however I'd rather not write off an entire section of society because of the riots.

BTW I was very upset by the riots. People round here were scared and worried, for their homes and livelihoods. Lots of people lost everything they had. But I'm not going to walk around calling all kids from council estates as scum because of it. That's basically what 'underclass' means to me, and I'm trying to find out if it means the same thing to others or am I being oversensitive?

Nancy66 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:48:52

I think it's merely a way to separate people from the working class - people who are poor but decent.

I quite like it!

CupcakesandTwunting Thu 11-Aug-11 11:49:46

I think that the term serves a purpose, for a reason. I don't like the working classes being tarred with the same brush as the "underclasses". There was a time when working class meant just that; you worked for a living. Now, when people talk about the working classes often they are referring to the people that Cogito just talked about. The romantic view of the working classes being salt of the earth, do-anything-for-anyone, hard workers has been shattered, even though it is still true of most working class people.

The faction of society who Cogito describes should not be lumped in with the working classes. They do not represent us.

ScrambledSmegs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:50:03

I see what you mean, Cogito, and I agree that it's an insult to lump them in with the 'working class'. However, is it really being used just to describe the those people? I'm seeing it being used to describe people who live on council estates hmm.

Maybe it's just that there's some misunderstanding about what the word actually means.

SiamoFottuti Thu 11-Aug-11 11:51:53

"poor but decent" = working class? Sheesh. Class isn't a value judgement, its an economic and social stratification system.Underclass has a specific meaning.

catgirl1976 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:53:39

I think it is a fair definition. It isn't to do with being poor or working class - it is seperate and makes the distinction that this element is a class all on its own, an "underclass". I think it is important to separate this element out as thier behaviour has little to do with being rich or poor, on benefits or working, being on as low income, etc as the variety in those arrested has shown. I like the idea they can all be classed as "underclass".

spiderpig8 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:53:40

my perception is that it means a group 'kept under' by society

scurryfunge Thu 11-Aug-11 11:53:50

I don't know anyone who would apply it to those living on council estates. I see it as referring to a group a people who live outside society's "rules". Doesnt mean they are poor.

catgirl1976 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:55:18

It is usually composed of the socially disadvantaged but I do think we might have a nice opportunity to broaden the acceptance criteria atm.

spiderpig8 Thu 11-Aug-11 11:57:02

oh and the dictionary agrees with me too- underpriveged

ScrambledSmegs Thu 11-Aug-11 12:00:27

Very glad to see that I am BU, weirdly! It's just really good to see that lots of people do make the distinction between 'working class' and 'underclass'. Sadly I've met some people who don't, so I was getting a bit het up about it.

catgirl1976 Thu 11-Aug-11 12:02:19

It would be nice if we could change the definition as I do think there needs to be a way to seperate out these people from the rest of society. I suppose "pricks who would rather steal and destroy than work and contribute and refuse to take any responsbility for their own behaviour" might do it but its not snappy enough.

WeDONTneedanotherhero Thu 11-Aug-11 12:03:00

"underclass" is used in sociology a lot.

unpa1dcar3r Thu 11-Aug-11 12:05:44

My interpretation and understanding of it is anyone on benefits. As soon as you mention benefits, Oops there you go down to the underclass.
I like your post Scrambled, it is intelligent and thought out in a non judgemental way.

I'm officially 'underclass' (originally working class) but now destined to live a life of being a scum sucking bottom feeder.
Why? I hear you all scream (!)
Because I had to give up my well paid job to care for my 2 SLD children and therefore am on benefits (£55 pw carers allowance- jobseekers is more), considered 'unemployed' although in reality I work often 24/7 and do things that no human being should have to do everyday.
Oh I did get a degree (aged 44) couple of years back (2:1) on 3 hrs sleep per night and still cared, and I'm about to embark on a PGCE and I will still be caring, but once I'm in paid employment I will drag myself from the depths of the underground underclass tunnels and will once again be working class- and I'll still be caring! smile

SiamoFottuti Thu 11-Aug-11 12:06:17

which dictionary? It's a loaded term, with a much bigger definition than one word, which is disputed by sociologists economists and social anthropologists. This simplistic analysis can't begin to touch the notion of the underclass.

Here is one definition (of many):
UNDERCLASS: People who are at the bottom of a society having become victims of poverty trap. This class is largely composed of the young unemployed, long-unemployed, chronically-sick, disabled, old, or single-parent (usually the mother) families. It also includes those who are systematically excluded from participation in legitimate economic activities, such as cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities or illegal immigrants. Children of the underclass (specially those from single-parent families) often lack educational qualifications and social and other skills and are, therefore, unable to rise out of it.

Do you want to talk about the over-representation of non-whites in the "underclass"? Or the role of immigration, disability policy, etc etc. Or is this just yet another thread about finding a convenient label to put on a section that makes them "other" and therefore less threatening?

unpa1dcar3r Thu 11-Aug-11 12:07:26

Yes Hero you're right; my degree was in the Sociology of Health and Social Care and the term underclass was banded about constantly to describe anyone not in paid employment.

manicinsomniac Thu 11-Aug-11 12:07:33

YANBU, it's a disgusting term that encourages people to think of some of our own people as beneath contempt and unworthy of help/inclusion in society.

under what exactly? Everybody else? ugh, revolting.

spookshowangel Thu 11-Aug-11 12:08:43

that is the problem with terms like this scrambled some people can make reasoned and logical jumps to understand what a term like underclass means but a lot of people wont and will just, like people say here, all people on council estates are underclass, or all poor black people are underclass, or all single mums on benefits are underclass and there we have a new term to bash about the less well off with and a great buzz word for the daily mail and the sun etc for the masses to salivate over.

halcyondays Thu 11-Aug-11 12:09:22

So what would you call them then? I dislike hearing working class used as a euphemism for underclass. If it is an "unpleasant" word, which I don't think it is particularly, perhaps that's because it's used to describe people who are doing rather unpleasant things, like rioting, arson, looting, shooting, etc.

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