Oscar Lewis was a sociologist who investigated poverty and its trends amongst society. Lewis came up with a theory commonly known as the ‘Cycle of Poverty’.


The cycle of poverty is the term used to refer to the phenomenon in which poor families become trapped in poverty for generations. This is because they have no access to long-term education and no long-term financial guarantees.OscarLewis


The cycle of poverty suggests young children who are born into poverty will remain in poverty because they lack the ability to go to school and receive no education, their families are not financially stable (no clean clothing, a poor diet, lack of hygiene, etc.). The ability for them to break out of this cycle is limited, and in some cases simply not possible.


With this in mind, it is clear to see how poverty-stricken people remain living in certain parts of the world but not others. Commonly, people do not travel far within the different classes of society, as demonstrated by the Cycle of Poverty.


In the UK, governments have historically reacted to the issue of poverty by:


  1. The introduction of benefits – the government hands out payments to help the poor.


  1. Compulsory education; Operation Headstart; Educational Action Zones.


  1. The Government introduced the National Health Service in 1948, allowing for the general well-being of the population to increase. The NHS is part of the Welfare State that when it was introduced at a wholesale level was meant to look after everyone in the UK from “the cradle to the grave” or as some put it, “from the womb to the tomb”.


Lewis identified the following in his cycle of poverty.


  1. Many children born into poverty remain under-weight as a baby due to a poor diet.


  1. A minimal parental input means that a child born into poverty is under-prepared or simply not prepared for pre-school or primary school education. This immediately puts that child at a disadvantage compared to others from a different background.


  1. A lack of material things within a school when compared to others reinforces that child’s background – an ‘antique’ mobile phone for instance or a dated iPod etc.



  1. A postcode lottery means that many children born into poverty attend secondary schools that get some of the worst exam results.



  1. With minimal educational qualifications, a child born into poverty has little chance of finding a long term career. Higher education for many is a fanciful dream. The bulk of NEAT’s come from poorer backgrounds. By their very nature, NEAT’s have few skills to offer the job market.



  1. Should they get a job, it is likely to be short-term and earning the government’s minimum wage. Therefore, the money they get all but keeps them in poverty as they simply do not have any money to get out of it.



  1. Should they get married, their children will be born into poverty. As parents, they will have seen how education has ‘failed them’ and probably reinforce onto their children that ‘education does not matter’ and ‘it’s not important’ and the cycle of poverty continues for another generation.



Suggestions have been forwarded to break this cycle and some have been put into action by government. ‘Tweenies’ for the very young and City Academies for the older children have been introduced to give children from poor backgrounds a perceived better ‘kick-start’ to their lives. Alternate curriculums have also been introduced at secondary level to provide more vocational training for those who may well be isolated by traditional subjects. Government has pushed business and industries to accept vocational qualifications as having the same kudos as GCSE and GCE qualifications. The media has also presented a more compassionate side. In 2011, the BBC followed the lives of three children born into poverty to examine their prospects and life styles. The programme was well-received by critics but what it did show was that there was no obvious way out of the cycle for the three children involved in the programme.


Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex

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