There is a non insignificant portion of society that holds the belief that poverty, is a choice. This belief is held, traditionally, by those with a conservative perspective on the world. For them, it was their hard work that lifted them from poverty, and not luck, hidden social privileges or, more frequently, family connections. Therefore, from their perspective, it makes no sense that people can’t just do the same thing they did.
For centuries, but more so since the industrial revolution, poverty has been a pressing global issue that affects millions of people everywhere. Surely, they can’t all be lazy. Many times, those who live in poverty are mistakenly perceived as making a personal choice to remain in their circumstances. However, this perspective is far from the truth. Poverty is not merely a personal choice, but a complex interplay of biological, social, and psychological factors that often trap individuals in a cycle they cannot escape. In this blog post, we will delve into the underlying factors that contribute to poverty and provide evidence to debunk the notion that it’s merely a matter of personal choice.
1. Biological Factors:
Biological factors, such as genetics and health, can play a significant role in perpetuating poverty. Some people may be born with genetic predispositions to certain diseases or health conditions that limit their ability to work, ultimately hindering their economic progress. Additionally, lack of access to healthcare in impoverished communities can exacerbate health problems, further restricting one’s capacity to escape poverty. Furthermore, there is evidence that prolonged poverty is linked to higher stress levels that consequently lead to adverse health outcomes overtime.
Society and its structures can also contribute to poverty in various ways. Factors like inadequate access to quality education, limited job opportunities, and systemic discrimination can significantly impact an individual’s economic well-being. Furthermore, people living in poverty often lack the social connections and networks that could help them find better opportunities and climb the socioeconomic ladder. The lack of a community support is also linked to disenfranchised youth being vulnerable to grooming by gangs.
The psychological aspects of poverty are often overlooked but can be just as influential in perpetuating the cycle. Living in poverty can lead to chronic stress, which can impair cognitive function and decision-making abilities. Additionally, it can cause feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, and hopelessness, which may further hinder an individual’s motivation and drive to break free from their circumstances.
Prolonged poverty will also likely lead to poor mental health and generally leaving one unable to cope and overcome their circumstance.
Addressing poverty requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the interplay of biological, social, and psychological factors. By understanding these underlying causes, we can design more effective policies and interventions that can help break the cycle of poverty. Some potential solutions include:
– Investing in quality education and healthcare for all, regardless of socioeconomic status
– Implementing job training programs and economic initiatives that create new opportunities in impoverished communities
– Addressing systemic discrimination and promoting social equality
– Providing mental health support and resources to those living in poverty
Poverty is not a personal choice, but a complex outcome of various factors beyond an individual’s control. By acknowledging the biological, social, and psychological roots of poverty, we can work together to create a more equitable world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Let’s challenge the stereotypes surrounding poverty and commit ourselves to finding comprehensive solutions that address its multifaceted nature.
The events that took place in August 2011, following the deadly shooting of Mark Duggan by a police officer, stemmed from a protest in the streets of the London borough of Tottenham. Only hours later the situation quickly turned violent and escalated to full urban riots that lasted over four days and spread to some other cities in England. Many people lost their homes and many more businesses suffered the damages (BBC, 2011). As stated by Geoff Andrews in Chapter 8 of our study material, the radical view that “the rioters are seen not as a ‘mob’ or ‘thugs’, but as alienated youth, protesting against their lack of opportunities” comes from taking into account not only the violent behaviour of the people who rioted but also from an understanding of social circumstances which have led a significant portion of the population to completely disregard the law (Andrews, 2014 p. 318). In this Essay the radical and conservative ideologies behind how these events are viewed and interpreted will be discussed, starting by an impartial account of what caused the riots, followed by a review of the conservative stance of the government and the public’s opinion perspective, the radical justification for rioting, as well as the historical roots of these ideologies and their contemporary ramifications, concluding with a summary of how they impact communities.
Riots are commonly defined and known as being a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd (The Oxford Dictionary, 2015).
On Thursday, the 4th of August, Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in Tottenham. Two days later, a peaceful protest of around 300 people takes place in the afternoon, claiming “justice” for Mr Duggan and his family. Riot officers and police on horseback are sent to disperse the crowd but come under attack soon after. Unconfirmed reports say the incident was sparked by a teenage protester and a police officer. That same evening violence erupts against the police as patrol cars are set on fire. Other fires erupt and riots lead to looting. In the following days, riots and lootings spread across other boroughs of London and other cities such as Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester. Social media and, especially popular at the time, the messaging service BBM had been identified as the media of choice via which people would incite others to join in and riot; an article on The Economist will later coin the term ‘Blackberry riots’ (The Economist, 2011). A week after the protest, the metropolitan police say it arrested over 1,100 people, many people have lost their homes in fires, countless businesses suffered damages and people were trying to make sense of what has happened (BBC, 2011).
Three days after the riots began, the government issued its first statement. The speech was delivered by Prime Minister David Cameron, at that time the leader of a government coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, in which he completely dismissed the riot as a political gesture and focussed instead on what he referred to as a ‘morally corrupt and broken society. Despite being the leader of the coalition of contrasting ideologies, Mr Cameron’s built his speech with his conservative political idea and his ideological assumption about what is wrong and what needs to be changed (Andrews, 2014 p. 312). His statement was clear in pointing out how the situation was not the product of racial issues in segregated communities, nor about the government cuts to welfare and neither was it about poverty. As Andrews points out, “his own position emerges from a critique of rival explanations” (Andrews, 2011 p. 312). This position allowed him to not recognise riots as a form of social protest but simply as acts of vandalism and violent behaviour alone, symptomatic of a society with a moral void. Particular emphasis was given to private property in that it seemed to have wider importance to the stability of society. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains in his documentary ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’, “Cameron statement highlights how the ‘ultimate sin’ was to take things without paying for them. So the Conservative solution: we need more police” (Zizek, 2012).
A year after the riots, an independent panel was set up by the government to study the causes that led to riots and concluded “that the riots were fuelled by a range of factors including a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting, a failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders, materialism and suspicion of the police” (Fiona Bawdon, 2012). Darra Singh, chair of the panel also added: “when people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating” (Singh, 2012). This view is also shared by Zizek, as he carries on explaining the ideology behind the riots in his documentary: “man is not simply a product of circumstances and you have to see how these people live in practically ghettos and isolated communities, with no proper family life, no proper education and no prospect of regular employment” (Zizek, 2012).
In light of the verdict of the panel, how could the government response to these events be so detached from the underlying social issues that surround them? The answer lies in the historical root of conservatism. The book that is now considered a classic work of modern conservatism, written shortly after the French Revolution by Edmund Burke, titled ‘Reflection on the revolution in France’, divided the conservative ideology with four organising concepts: social order and stability can only be maintained by a natural hierarchy, rejection of the idea of popular sovereignty and preference for wisdom rather than reason as the basis of political change (Andrews, 2014 p. 304-305). Modern conservatism still has the same core ideas, and in addition, there is a belief that people should take care of themselves rather than expecting the government to provide welfare (Singh, 2013) and that consumerism should be protected at the cost of an unequal society. Therefore, riotous acts are seen by the government not as acts of political protest but as actions of pure criminality that require more policing (Cameron, 2011).
On the other end of this ideological spectrum, contemporary commenters, such as Camila Batmanghelidjh’s on The Independent, instead claim that the riots were ‘the natural human response to the brutality of poverty’ (Batmanghelidjh, 2011). Alex Hiller makes a similar point: “The shocking acts of looting may not be political, but they nevertheless say something about the beaten-down lives of the rioters” (Hiller, 2011). Even Zizek in his documentary explains that “it is the reaction of people who are caught in the predominant ideology [consumerism] but have no grace to realize what this ideology demands of them and thus, a wild ‘acting out’ within this ideological frame of circumstances is the result of a specific ideological constellation even though there seemed to be no apparent reason behind the violence” (Zizek, 2012). And riots have historically been an instrument of political and social reforms since the time of the French Revolution, as the roots of radical ideology can be traced back to the period of the French Enlightenment when political arguments, such as the ‘rights of man’, became popularised and spread through the population. These ideas stemmed from the notion of reason, progress and reform, which were considered revolutionary at the time when Europe was ruled by monarchies (Andrews, 2014 p. 301). The three organising concepts of radicalism are popular sovereignty, universal rights and social progress. Modern radicalism includes in its core values all of the radical organising concepts as well as a strong interest in helping the poor rise from their place (Singh, 2013). So when people take to the streets to voice their discontent, the underlying reasons and motivations have not changed since the time of the French Revolution as they remain social and economic (Andrews, 2014 p. 298). As Alex Hiller stated: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it” (Hiller, 2011).
As the government is guided by an ideology towards a direction that takes away from part of its population the ability to actively participate equally in society, this marginalisation inevitably leads to a lack of trust towards the system that creates more inequality and injustice. Increasingly police officers are seen less as active members of communities, available to help and solve problems, and more as enforcers of laws that these marginalised communities did not necessarily agree to (BBC, 2011). After the riots, when being interviewed by journalists, “Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice. For some this was economic: the lack of money, jobs or opportunity. For others, it was more broadly social: how they felt they were treated compared with others” (Lewis, Newburn, Taylor and Ball, 2011).
In conclusion, as Andrews stated, “the meaning of ‘riot’ is often held in the eyes of the beholder at any given time” (Andrews, 2014 p. 288). Perhaps riots are a manifestation of a society that is evolving faster than its government is able to adapt, and the ideologies behind the narratives of each side are nothing but the ongoing tug of war between society and the government that rules it. In this essay, the riotous events that took place in London in 2011 have been discussed as well as the stance of the government and the public’s opinion, the roots of radicalism and conservatism and their contemporary ramifications, concluding with how marginalised communities are affected.
Definition of ‘riot‘ from The Oxford Dictionary [Online]. Available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/riot (Accessed 15 August 2015).
‘England riots: Maps and timeline’ (2011), BBC News [Online].
Available at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-14436499 (Accessed 15 August 2015).
‘The BlackBerry riots: Rioters used BlackBerrys against the police; can police use them against rioters?’ (2011), The Economist [Online]. Available at http://www.economist.com/node/21525976 (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Geoff Andrews (2014) ‘Reading the riots from Below, the radical case’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Slavoj Zizek (Writer), Sophie Fiennes, Katie Holly, Martin Rosenbaum, James Wilson (Producers), Sophie Fiennes (director) (2012) ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ [Motion Picture]. United Kingdom: Zeitgeist Films.
Fiona Bawdon (2012) ‘Verdict on UK riots: people need a ‘stake in society’, says report’, The Guardian [Online].
Available at www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/mar/28/verdict-uk-riots-stake-society (Accessed 15 August 2015).
‘Riot Report reveals ‘500,000 forgotten families’’ (2012), BBC News [Online].
Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17525873 (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Chanpreet Singh (2013) Essay on ‘Liberal vs. Conservatives: What Do They Have in Common?’ [Online].
Available at http://www.booksie.com/other/essay/chanpreet_singh/liberals-vs-conservatives:-what-do-they-have-in-common (Accessed 15 August 2015).
David Cameron (2011) ‘Fightback after the riots’, speech to Witney constituents, 15 August, official website of the Prime Minister’s office [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pms-speech-on-the-fightback-after-the-riots (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Camilla Batmanghelidjh (2011) ‘Caring costs – but so do riots’, The Independent [Online].
Available at http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/camila-batmanghelidjh-caring-costs-ndash-but-so-do-riots-2333991.html (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Zoe Williams (2011) ‘The UK Riots: the psychology of looting’, The Guardian [Online].
Available at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-psychology-of-looting (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Simon Coates (2011) ‘Non-riotous Behaviour’ Analysis, BBC Radio 4 [Podcast].
Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b014pw7g (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Paul Lewis, Tim Newburn, Matthew Taylor and James Ball (2011) ‘Rioters say anger with police fuelled summer unrest’ The Guardian [Online]. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/dec/05/anger-police-fuelled-riots-study (Accessed 15 August 2015).
The process of migration is one of transition from one community to another. It has an impact on both the place of origin and the place where migrants settle as there are disconnections and connections that take place during the process; the push and pull factors usually at work can be economic, social, political or environmental. In this essay, qualitative and quantitative evidence from the study materials in support of the claim that “disconnections can lead to new connections” will be discussed, such as the personal experience of a migrant working on Cardiff’s City Road, the relationship that migrating mothers have with their home country, cultural roots and the place they have migrated to, the cultural sense of identity of Kurdish migrants and the effects of internal migration in the developing cities of Britain during the industrialisation period of the 1800s.
Connections and disconnections in relation to migration are about the relationships migrants leave behind and the new ones that form at their destination. These new relationships can form in the social world as they stem from a new job or neighbourhood. In Chapter 3 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, a few case studies from City Road in Cardiff are discussed, and the story of Nof Al-Kelaby, an Iraqi immigrant, is one of the new connections taking place in response to disconnections (Havard, 2014). Nof emigrated to Cardiff in the 1990s to study engineering; after graduation, he was unable to get a job in his field but found the opportunity to open a restaurant that had run successfully for fifteen years. Recently, however, the business was declining due to the rising competition in Cardiff, and Nof realised that the only way he could keep his business was to reinvent it to attract a different clientele. During the time when ‘The Hawaiian’ was successful, the social connections Nof had made were with the local community of the whole of Cardiff; when he reinvented his business and opened the ‘La Shish’ restaurant, the new social connections that formed were with the local Arabic community of City Road. Not found himself reconnecting with his own Iraqi identity as a result (The Open University, 2015).
For migrants, the sense of personal identity is strongly linked to one’s own background, native traditions and cultural heritage. Mothers play a fundamental role in creating and maintaining a connection with the culture that was left behind and the culture of the adopted country. ‘Translocalism’ is the term used by social scientists to describe the link people have to more than one place at the same time (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.157). In the focus group discussion led by Umut Erel (The Open University, 2015), three immigrant mothers are interviewed to get a better insight into their experience as migrant mothers. They all account for their likes and dislikes about living in London, yet they all have a definite awareness of where they come from, what that means for the children they are bringing up, what it means for them to be able to go back and teach the children their traditions, foods and language. Engaging with the neighbourhood is also very important to all of them, yet the most significant connections are made through their children’s schools, since for parents, and mothers in particular, networking with other parents is what leads to new social connections. All of these connections, both personal and social, are essential to the sense of identity, such as in the case of the mother of Kurdish descent, who, although raised in Germany from the age of five, finds it important to pass on to her children both German and Kurdish traditions.
The Kurdish population that has been migrating away from Turkey is a good example of a strong cultural identity that is being kept alive by traditions and language passed on from generation to generation. In Chapter 4 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Raghuram and Erel describe the term ‘Diaspora’ to identify a geographically sparse population that shares some common elements of heritage linked to a home, real or imagined (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.153). They go on to explain that “diasporic cultural identity is often invested with a search for origins, yet it undergoes constant transformation” and add that “for many migrants the idea of a homeland is contested, particularly for refugees” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Even though the Kurdish people are the dominant ethnic group in parts of Eastern Turkey since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 Kurds have not been officially recognised (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Those publicly identifying themselves as belonging to that ethnic group have been marginalised or persecuted, particularly in recent years: the ongoing war the Turkish state is engaged in with the Kurdish guerrillas cost an estimated 40,000 lives and forced internal displacement of approximately one million Kurdish villagers (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.155). It is therefore important for the Kurdish people to maintain that fundamental sense of identity and pass it on and keep it alive with their future generations, often merging with the identity of the places they have migrated to. They regularly visit Kurdish community centres, they learn the Kurd language and attend religious, political, social events to reinforce their cultural identity (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.156). As Raghuram and Erel put it, “these Kurdish mothers make new identities for themselves and their children as (in the case of Kurds that have migrated to the UK) British Kurds or Kurdish British”.
Raghuram and Erel go on to explain that “migration is caused by both the factors that ‘push’ people away from where they currently live[…] and the factors that ‘pull’ people to other destinations” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.160). This is true for both international and internal migration. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Britain experienced the growth of cities and a change in how people lived, a process referred to by the term ‘Urbanisation’ (Dixon and Hichliffe, 2014, p.85). The population shifted from small villages to towns, which would then grow into cities. The reasons for this migration, although complex, can be summarised as changes in farming and the growing importance of industrial manufacturing (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.85). Data on the size of the population during a 90-year span was collected, beginning in 1801, and an estimate could be made: it was found that settlements with over 20,000 people increased ten-fold from 1.5 million to over 15 million over that period (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86). In interpreting the data, Dixon and Hichliffe state that “most of this population growth was in the centre of cities, with many people housed in appalling conditions” (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86): this had a significant impact on the way people lived and the connections they would make. Suddenly, numerous families would live closely together in slums, and new connections, that never occurred previously, would stem from such living arrangements. The term ‘Urbanisation’ encompassed not only the physical phenomena of growing cities but also to the subtle and important changes in the way people lived their lives (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.87).
As the above examples have shown, the claim that disconnections can lead to new connections goes hand in hand with the concept of migration, as inevitably there will be disconnections and equally inevitably there will be connections, stemming from the job opportunities migrants will encounter at their destination or the neighbourhood they will move to. The connections that formed in the social life of Nof on City Road led him to a new sense of identity, whilst for the migrant mothers interviewed by Erel, the social and personal connections are about maintaining their sense of identity; particularly for the Kurdish migrants, the sense of identity intertwines with the identity of the place they have migrated to without losing the sense of their cultural heritage; and as seen during the industrialisation period of the 1800s, people disconnected from the old way of life to make new connections in the form of new communities and new ways that families lived together.
Catriona Havard (2014) ‘Connecting Lives’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
The Open University (2015) ‘Connecting Lives’ [Video], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620292§ion=2 (Accessed 18 June 2015).
The Open University (2015) ‘Migrating Mothers’ [Audio], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620321§ion=3 (Accessed 18 June 2015).
Parvati Raghuram and Umut Erel (2014) ‘Migration: changing and connecting places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
John Dixon and Steve Hinchliffe (2014) ‘Connecting people and places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
To help outline the view that in a consumer society, rising affluence is associated with both more waste and greater recycling, it is important to understand the concepts that are going to be used. Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘consumer society‘ as “a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is the most important social and economic activity” (Oxford Dictionary, 2015). A consumer society is also often referred to as a ‘throwaway society’; both terms are often derogatory as they are associated with the waste produced and its impact on the environment. What these terms fail to identify is that with more things being thrown away, there are greater efforts at recycling from both the individual and the government. In this essay, drawing from the study material and official reports, the correlation between rising affluence and consumerism, the kind of waste produced and whether it is avoidable, approaches to recycling and the role of government policies with the help of behavioural economics will be discussed, as well as the constraints in the way individuals make their lives around this issue.
Rising affluence in the UK, for example, has been assessed by looking at the data of ‘real disposable income per head in the UK’, provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) over the period from 1970 to 2009, as it shows an upward trend in the available disposable income per head (ONS, 2010). It is worth noting that, as author Rajiv Prabhakar concluded from the same data, “rising affluence occurred at the same time as the growth in consumer markets” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 235). As seen in the “Rise of Mass Consumption” (The Open University, 2015), after a period of austerity following the end of the Second World War, wages increased while at the same time the ability to make costly purchases on credit repayable by monthly instalments allowed many to buy things previously inaccessible. The manufacturing of labour-saving devices meant that women had more free time for leisure and could consider entering the workforce to add income to the household budget. The increase in living standards meant that the spending habits could shift from necessities to luxuries. Prabhakar (2014) summarised: “As people became richer, they were able to spend more money on products and also upgrade more regularly. This growth in consumption could create more waste, for example with the packaging that surrounds products as well as products becoming obsolete more regularly” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 235). The modern consumer society is therefore a direct result of rising affluence and the rising level of waste is its consequence.
Data collected on the household waste per person produced per year in the UK also shows an upward trend for the period from 1983 to 2010, where each person produced at least 400 kg per year, peaking to over 520 kg in the period of 2002/03 (ONS, 2010). The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) reports that 28 million tonnes of household waste are generated in the UK each year, of which 4.9 million tonnes are packaging and 7 million tonnes are food waste (WRAP, 2015). WRAP says that 4.2 million tonnes of food waste are avoidable (WRAP, 2012). Prabhakar (2014) notes that “consumer waste is only part of the total food waste”(Prabhakar, 2014, p. 231), as the figures published by TESCO in 2013 on the food wasted by its customers claim to amount to only 16% (TESCO, 2013); waste is produced by both – individual organisation as well as the individual consumer. When discussing the impact of waste on the environment, the concept of externality is used as it reflects how the cost of waste is not adequately represented in the price of the goods and services. Prabhakar (2014) explains how “an individual’s private decision to produce or consume has wider ‘external’ effects for society” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 232). As rising waste raises concerns about the idea of environmental sustainability, the responsibility on the issue of dealing with it becomes a social issue leading to the government becoming involved. A report on waste management published by the EU highlights a series of possible factors for the growth of waste, drawing particular attention to the role of rising affluence and advances in technology, but at the core, it notes that “these lifestyle changes may have increased our quality of life, but they also mean we are generating more waste than ever before” (EU, 2012, p. 2).
The data on household waste per person produced per year in the UK supports Prabhakar’s (2014) claim that “although rising affluence is associated with rising waste, it is also associated with greater recycling” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 237), as it shows that in the period of 2008/09, 38% of the total waste produced was recycled, composted or reused (ONS, 2010).
Furthermore, supermarkets in the UK have also been putting greater effort into reducing waste by preventing it, starting from their supply chain to how produce is sold in their shops: when in 2013 TESCO revealed that 68% of bagged salad was thrown out, it dropped the promotion of bagged salads (Rebecca Smithers, 2013). Overseen by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in the spring of 2014, the third phase of a voluntary agreement (The Courtauld Commitment) took place between grocery and retail sectors to cut both food and packaging waste in the supply chain (WRAP, 2015). The technology industry is also embracing a more environmentally sustainable model by reducing their carbon footprints and the cost of packaging, as in the case of Apple Inc., which is involved in both production and manufacturing of goods and has been at the forefront of environmental responsibility (Apple, 2015) since 2007, when Steve Jobs revealed details on Apple’s efforts to remove toxics from its products (Todd Woody, 2012).
“Reducing waste involves changes in the way that people make their lives” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 238), author Prabhakar notes, adding further that “even if changes to production are introduced, then it is just as important to […] introduce changes in the individual behaviour” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 240). This is where behavioural economics and government policy can exert their influence and promote recycling and waste reduction. The EU Landfill Directive of 1999 forced the local government to approach the issue of recycling on how the waste was collected and disposed of, thus promoting recycling to both businesses and consumers (DEFRA, 2004). Yet, there are constraints to some; not everyone is able to participate equally in remaking their lives in a consumer society by recycling properly or reducing their carbon footprints. When discussing constraints in the ability of society to recycle properly, Prabhakar states that “poverty is an obvious constraint on individual behaviour” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 252) as it can manifest itself in lack of time as well as financial resources, which in turn puts a constraint on how people handle waste management in their household or waste reduction when shopping for groceries.
To summarise, there is evidence to support the claim that rising affluence leads to increasing levels of waste, but there is also evidence of a greater effort at recycling from individuals; in the effort towards recycling, government policies, with the help of behavioural economics, are helping to overcome poverty as a major constraint on the behaviour of individuals. The point of this essay has been to broadly review: the roots and the role of consumerism and its ties to rising affluence in the UK; who produces, what kinds of waste are produced (from the average household waste produced per person per year to the waste produced by the individual organisation) and the factors contributing to its growth; what makes an argument for greater effort at recycling, who is involved and who can’t; and the role of government policies and influence exerted with the help of behavioural economics in recycling, waste reduction and better waste management.
Definition of a ‘consumer society‘ from The Oxford Dictionary [online]. Available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/consumer-society (Accessed 30 April 2015).
Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2010) Social Trends 40 [Online]. Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/social-trends-rd/social-trends/social-trends-40/social-trends-40—environment-chapter.pdf (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
Rajiv Prabhakar (2014) ‘Throwaway Society? Waste and Recycling’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
The Open University (2015) ‘Rise of Mass Consumption’ [Video], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620300§ion=5 (Accessed 30 April 2015).
European Union (EU) (2012) ‘Being Wise with Waste: The EU’s Approach to Waste Management’ [Online]. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/pdf/WASTE%20BROCHURE.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2012) Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK report [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/hhfdw-2012-main.pdf.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2015).
Rebecca Smithers (2013) ‘UK Supermarkets Face Mounting Pressure to Cut Food Waste‘, The Guardian [Online]. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/21/uk-supermarkets-pressure-cut-food-waste (Accessed 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2015) Carrier Bags: Reducing Their Use [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/carrier-bags-reducing-their-use (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2015) The Courtauld Commitment [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/node/14507 (accessed 30 April 2015).
Todd Woody (2012) ‘How Apple Went from Environmental Laggard to Leader’, Forbes [Online]. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/02/22/how-apple-went-from-environmental-laggard-to-leader/ (Accessed 30 April 2015).
‘Environmental Responsibility‘ published by Apple inc. online [Online]. Available at https://www.apple.com/environment/ (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (2004) ‘Impact of EU Landfill Directive and National Strategies on UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ [Online]. Available at http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=GA01030_1510_FRP.pdf (Accessed on 30 April 2015).