Understanding the Underclass


Recent debate on social policy in the US has focused on the idea that there is a growing underclass of people concentrated in poor neighbourhoods where public services and community networks have broken down, and where rates of crime are high and rising. According to this view, these people are poor, they lack education and marketable skills, they are in work at best only intermittently, they tend not to form stable family relationships, they live in poor housing or are homeless, and they often use illicit drugs. They are said to be an underclass because they are not integrated into the economic and social structure, and have little stake in society.

This collection of papers by leading British writers addresses the question of whether there is a permanent underclass in Britain. It critically examines the idea of an underclass, presents new analyses of British data, and considers the implications for policy from the perspectives of both the Right and the Left.


  • Defining the underclass - David J Smith
  • Labour market inactivity and polarisation - Nick Buck
  • The attitudes of the underclass - Anthony Heath
  • Theories and explanations of the underclass - David Willetts
  • Footnotes for the discussion - Sir Ralf Dahrendorf
  • Policy issues and the underclass debate - James Cornford
  • Liberty, policy and the underclass - David G Green
  • The future of the underclass - David J Smith