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Unemployment as a Social Problem

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5197 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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This essay focuses on unemployment as a social problem which can be defined as by the International; Labour Organisation, (ILO,2015, p.1) , “all persons of working age who were: a) without work during the reference period, i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment; b) currently available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment during the reference period; and c) seeking work, i.e. had taken specific steps in a specified recent period to seek paid employment or self-employment”. It then offers a definition of terms and provides a brief understanding of how social workers support the unemployed followed by an understanding of political ideology. From this point on it provides a critical analysis of a theoretical understanding of how alienation theory can help social workers to understand unemployment as a public issue and the different problems and the economic barriers Lone parents experience in relation to, a lack of affordable child care, mental health and housing, as a result of living in a capitalist society. It then offers a critical discussion of how alienation theory can inform social work practice when supporting unemployed LPs through such difficulties.

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Sociology can be defined as a discipline, seeking to provide social workers with an explanation and understanding of different social phenomenon through a broad range of competing theoretical perspectives, which can help social workers to reflect upon both the lived experiences of citizens and the interplay between such individuals, social work practice and the wider social structures of society. (Oak, 2009, Howe,1992). However, not only is theoretical knowledge important, as a skill, emphasis has been placed on social workers developing a sociological imagination, which essentially enables them to make the distinction between personal troubles and public issues. According to Mills, (1959), unemployment can be viewed as a personal trouble because of the impact it has on unemployed lone parents (ULPs) and those direct relations they have with others, which he referred to as the “personal troubles of milieu”. This therefore becomes a private matter because the individual’s values are felt to be under threat. However, a personal trouble can

transpire into a public issue when unemployment becomes a national problem, affecting thousands of ULPs, resulting from the processes of organisations and institutions in society, which Mills (1959, p.8) referred to as the “public issues of social structure”. This therefore becomes a public matter, due to the public values under threat.

Mills, (1959), stresses that social workers must be able to understand the connection between individual problems; ‘personal troubles’ and the ‘public issues of social structure’, such as unemployment, so that they can look beyond ULPs circumstances, their lived experiences and view their situation from a new perspective. That is, rather than holding individuals personally accountable for their own moral failings, as Cree (2010, p.1). suggests, it can prompt social workers to challenge their own personal values and critically examine informed by social theory instead of their own “common-sense assumptions” and “attitudes”, Therefore, social workers are more likely to see a person trouble such as unemployment as a public issues and understand it as rooted in the wider social structures of society and beyondULPs control. The term` `lone parent’’ as stated by (speak,2000, p.34), refers to” anyone raising a child outside of a cohabiting relationship, which include both older and younger lone parents, those who are divorced, separated, widowed or never married, and those who have never cohabited”.


It is found by Briar, K. (1983, p.213), that unemployment can lead to lone parents experiencing catastrophic economic, social and psychological problems. With this in mind, It can be argued that ULPs are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of individuals in society, making their welfare a major concern for the social work profession Therefore, as suggested by McClelland, (1993:29), social workers in their daily practice support ULPs, through difficulties such as, severe financial hardship and poverty, debt, homelessness and housing stress, family tensions and breakdown, shame and stigma, social isolation, crime, erosion of self-esteem, the atrophy of work skills and ill-health, all of which can contribute to a loss of control over their lives.

Although unemployment is not a new problem it was identified by Beveridge as one of the five giant evils, which he referred to as idleness, meaning involuntary unemployment, ref as well as other problems such as poverty and health that plagued society as a result of a poor economy. In this period there was a consensus where the government introduced different strategies to meet people’s needs. This was based on the Beveridge’s recommendations that the government should as a matter of priority, apply the powers invested in them to intervene and eradicate such evils. (Beveridge, 1942, cited in Cunningham & Cunningham, 2017, p.69) However, the strategies still had a strand of the capitalist principle of individualism because people where means tested to qualify for welfare support, centred on “a strict eligibility criteria and incentives to work to deter dysfunctional patterns of behaviour”. (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2017, p.99) It can be argued that welfare policies are informed by ideological perspective such as the capitalist principles of individualism. This is evident in individualistic strategies introduced in response to lone parent’s needs, such as the new deal and in work incentives. For example, New Labour have encouraged unemployed lone parents to acquire education through training instead of overlooking structural problems such as a lack of employment opportunities. The current government has continued with similar individualistic polices where they have introduced ULPs to go to work.

However, according the Marxist theory these kinds of policies can be seen to serve the capitalist needs of profit making, a notion supported by

In addition, ULPs are not always in a position to be able to enter the world of work as

per such Neo-Liberal ideological principles, as arguably they may face a number of

barriers to entering the labour market, (Graham,2014, p.9) most likely due to disadvantage and inequality. These include factors such as lack of affordable, child care, the types and availability of work, Low wages and benefits issues and working hours, which may lead to mental health issues and poor housing, and in turn alienation. According to Marx, alienation stems from the economic infrastructure of society, (Shantz & Truss,2012, p.2530; Jones Bradbury & Le Boutillier,2017. p.45) Therefore, alienation theory can be applied to help social

workers understand unemployment as a public issue.

Alienation can be taken to mean as suggested by (Layder, 2006 p.44). as “several

related psychological conditions that afflict individuals and groups who have little

control over their living conditions, working lives and future prospectus”. Marx

proposes that the “labour process” may alienate ULPs from the “product of their

labour”, from oneself “, their fellow human beings”, and that of “human nature”.

According to Marx, society is based on a social division between two classes in a

capitalist society where the proletariat face structured social inequality, such as

differences in income, resources,power and status within society. (Corletta 1988

p.700; Ferguson & Lavallette, 2004, P.301) Such inequalities are maintained by those

in powerful positions via institutions and social processes”, (Naidoo and Will 2008,

cited in Warwick-Booth, 2013. P .19. Firstly, the proletariat, such as ULPs who are

employed on the basis of waged labour, (Kreckel, 1980, p.528) who lose all control

over a vital aspect of their life and the conditions in which they work. Secondly, the

Bourgeoisie who own the means of production, exploit and oppress the proletariat by

paying them minimal wages in order to maximise their profit and by subjecting them to

work demands and adverse working conditions regardless of the physical or

psychological impact it has on them. (Jones,Bradbury & Le Boutillier, (2017, p.42).

It can be argued that LPs may be alienated from the product of their labour due to a

shift in the availability from full-time work topart time work, low skilled capsulised

labour and zero-hour contracts, who often pay the legal minimum wage, like those in

local shops, bars, offices and cleaning companies (Keith & Schafer,1982, p.240),

which offer little income or job security. However, such job opportunities are most

likely to be occupied by older LPs due to their previous work experience, which places

teenage LPs at an unfair disadvantage who may lack the education and skills

necessary to secure such paid work (Speak, 2002). Thus, with little employment and

financial security LPs may struggle to provide for necessities like food, clothing and

shelter (Jones,Bradbury & Le Boutillier, 2017, p.44) and because of working in such

insecure jobs their employment prospects are uncertain because it can be ceased

without warning. This may lead to LPs applying for welfare benefits for financial

assistance. However, payments are not instant and due to unemployment benefits

cuts and other benefits caps which have tightened the conditions with regard to

entitlement, make it difficult to obtain funds and as such as standing (2008, p.21)

argues, that this may be “a form of ‘contractualisation’ which is turning LPs status into

something closer to labour in-unemployment. Evidence suggests that when LPs

experience a sudden reduction in income this may lead to them facing a ‘crisis’ which

could lead to them facing mental health issue due to stress, anxiety of depression as

a result of worrying about money and being able to afford to pay their bills and food.

Such factors as argued by (Keith & Schafer,1982, p.240) may leadto them seeking

assistance from food banks to sustain their needs. According to Lambie Munford et

al., (2014, p.1420), the two leading causes for food assistance relate to job loss or

problems with social security payments. This delay in payments as suggested by

Lambie-Munford et al., (2014, p.1420) may result from LPs still be treated as a

homogenous group when applying for benefits. Even though they are provided with

personal advisor’s LPs are still stigmatised by policy makers who fail to appreciate the

different circumstances, needs and abilities of the subgroups of LPs who are

expected to take up work in any industry irrespective of their skills which may lead to

LPs being alienated from their fellow human beings.

As suggested by Marx LPs may be alienated from their fellow human beings as the capitalist separate LPs from other workers through their tendency to divide and rule. This consequently places LPs in stark competition with other workers to compete for jobs, pay or performance-related bonuses, rather than as found by faucher (2018, p.63) “as, encouraging collaboration” as they see their fellow colleagues as noted by Swain (2012, p,703), as hostile competitors as opposed to cooperative partners. The problem with this relates to the neo-liberal ideological economic principles of casualisation of labour and zero-hour contracts as previously mentioned, as being deemed to offer the benefits of flexibility and convenience to ULPs and rewarding them on merit, whilst at the same time it devalues workplace solidarity (faucher, 2018, p.63). Also, through such work ethics that promote and encourage labour force division both in the work place and through temporary job opportunities, only exacerbates the plight of ULPs as this permits the capitalist to be able to continue to exploit them. In addition, LPs are at the disposal of their employers who can be hire and fire them at a minute’s notice subject to the needs and demands for temporary labour, all in the name of profit. Furthermore, Marx stresses that this form of alienation can have both psychical and practical consequences for LPs which can create a barrier and division between the house’s that LPs can afford, when they see the quality and types of dwellings they are forced to live in, which creates a divide between themselves and the capitalists. (faucher, 2018, p.63 This in turn can lead to LPs becoming alienated from themselves as they struggle to meet their housing needs.

Arguably LPs may be alienated from oneself because they do not have the same

access to services as their employed counterparts. It has been identified in the

literature, that there is according to central housing policy a “so called lack of

affordable housing”, that affect both the private, rental and owner-occupied sphere,

which has been on the rise since the 1960’s. (Hilber, 2015, p.3). With LPs either being

unemployed or in temporary low pad. Low skilled work this means that they are

unable to afford their rent which may lead to them becoming homeless. It could be

argued that this lack of affordable housing stems from the period when Thatcher was

in power which resulted in most of the council houses being sold off as part of the

conservative manifesto, through the introduction of the right to buy scheme.

(Beckett,2015). Also, through successive governments they have failed to build

enough affordable housing to cater for LPs needs. The conservative government

however, tried to combat this shortage of housing by introducing the right to by

scheme in attempt in attempt to tackle the housing crisis. (Hilber, 2015, p.2). It could

be argued this has not helped LPs and the government have come far enough to

tackle such issues. In addition, due to LPs insecurity due to being unemployment or in

temporary work as well as changes to the current benefit system, LPs are in a

worse position than ever before. If LPs parents do become homeless, they may be

deemed intentionally homeless which may contribute to their health and wellbeing

impacted, which in turn may result in psychosocial alienation. (Swain, (2012, p.725)

According to (Seeman,1959. p.789), LPs maybe subjected to psychosocial alienation

with reference to isolation, as a consequence of being discriminated and labelled by

the media who declare the unemployed as being “welfare dependant sponging off the

state”. This form of discrimination and isolation most probably arose from the

underlying principles of capitalism who fail to consider the structural issues relating to

a lack of suitable and affordable housing. This perception of the unemployed is further

encouraged by different political parties to justify a reduction in welfare benefits, such

as that by David Cameron who announced that welfare benefits were “sky-rocketing,

while generations languish on the dole dependency”, (Ian Mulheirn, New

Statesman,15 March 2013, cited in Isaacs, 2015, p.125), which in turn can prevent

Lone parents for paying for their housing needs and in turn facing possible eviction,

making them intentionally homeless. Spiker. This may lead to isolation from others as

they are forced to take up temporary accommodation in unfamiliar places miles away

from their families when this support is needed the most.

By discussing alienation theory, it has drawn attention to how LPs may experience

economic alienation and psychosocial alienation, as a result of disadvantage and

inequality in a capitalist society, through their experiences of unemployment and other

associated factors. However, Social workers can also experience alienation as a

result of care management approaches being introduced (Jones,2001), is likely to

result of a loss of control over the content of their work (Harris,1998). In a study

involving social workers, it has been demonstrated that that the extent in which social

workers experience alienation can be dependent on a numerous factor. For example,

as expressed by one social worker “I feel that that my values are different from my

departments” (Balloch, et al, 1995, p..87) others have expressed stress and

unhappiness and being over burdened by paperwork, which can lead to emotional

and physical exhaustion and sickness, as a result of work demands and in some

cases, serious health problems (Jones,2001, p.551).It has also been found that this

extended into social workers personal and social lives, as some spoke about being

“wrung out”. Such factors as highlighted by Jones, (2001, p. 5551) were mainly a

result of the agencies in which they work and not the interactions they had with

clients. Through such experiences it can be suggested that in order for social workers

to be able to support LPs with the after effects of unemployment that leads to

alienation, social workers must be able to manage their own sources of alienation and

seek support and advise from other professions or develop emotional resilience, and

social work values, in line with HCPC. (HCPC 2017, Trevithick 2012,).

Furthermore, the understanding of such challenges experienced by unemployed LPs

as a result of alienation, will help social workers to identify different support strategies

through the use of different theories whilst seeking to avoid contributing to the

negative consequences and experiences that LPs have already been subjected to.

Social workers can achieve this through dealing with LPs by drawing on a range of

skills such as active listening skills, effective communication and objectivity and

treating LPs with dignity and respect. Social workers should endeavour to inform their

practice through theory and within the legal framework. Also, by ensuring that ULPs

are supported to deal with their problems by supporting autonomy and by

encouraging them to identify ways that can deal with their problems and supporting

them through the availability of resources. For example, social workers can support

ULPs through by supporting them to make applications for housing benefits as a well

as helping them to understand their legal rights. In addition, social workers can also

help LPs access other support services such as mental health, charity organisations

through signposting that can support them financially.

In conclusion















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UK Housing and Planning Policies: the evidence from economic research

In-text: (Christian, 2015)

Your Bibliography: Christian, H. (2019). UK Housing and Planning Policies: the evidence from economic research. Retrieved from http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/EA033.pdf




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