Social outcasts

The underclass are those poor people whose status as citizens has become undermined and who are excluded from mainstream society. The members of the underclass do not share a common destiny; they are a mass of individuals, each with personal problems and a personal history of failure. It is not really a social class. There is little solidarity among its members because there is no shared reason for being in it - it is a matter of individual fate. Nevertheless, developments in the workplace are largely responsible for the increasing numbers of its members. The introduction of new technologies has led to a demand for more highly qualified workers, which means not only fewer jobs, but also that those with fewer skills are those who lose out. Unemployed youth fall through the social net that supports only those who subscribe to the work ethic. Foreigners and/or natives constitute another class of social outcasts. Many countries import large numbers of foreign workers but do not integrate them or give them a clearly defined status. They occupy an uncertain social position. They have claims and needs that their host countries are unable to fulfil; they are mostly unwanted, a social burden and often scapegoats for what goes wrong.
The emergence of an conspicuous underclass in response to a change in economic circumstances in industrialized societies, has been met with fear, prejudice, attempts to marginalize them and, eventually, legislation that sought to "punish" the individual rather than accept collective responsibility for them. This contemporary incidence harks back to the end of the Middle Ages, when the rising population was outstripping available land resources, the traditional systems of charity, centred upon the local parish, were breaking down under the pressure, and the able-bodies poor took to the road. The response then was a series of acts that ranged from flogging beggars back to their own parish, branding, and compulsory bondage. The emergence of the urban underclass resulted in the Poor Laws of the 1830s-40s and the Victorian workhouse.
Social outcasts have always made up the lower depths of society, but today they assume new proportions, affecting millions in many countries.
1. A conspicuous underclass is an irritating and high-profile reminder that all is not well in the country. The creative accounting of the unemployment figures, the adjustable interpretation of any figures on poverty, the wittily-named "youth opportunity schemes", the desire to clear the streets of London of undesirables, the efforts to keep up a "civilized" image of social welfare housing estates, the massive over-policing of the new breed of motorized travellers up and down the country; all of this might be seen by those partial to conspiracy theories as an attempt to create the impression that the underclass in no longer with us.

2. The world remains divided into first-, second- and third-class citizens. The latter includes children that are victims of infant mortality, indigenous peoples (many of whom are still not treated on an equal footing as human beings), and many rural workers throughout the world (and especially in Latin america). Such persons' lives are cheap. Westerners still tend to show more concern for the death of one white person than at the death of one thousand black people.

(D) Detailed problems