‘Helping Workless Families’: Cultural Poverty and the Family in Austerity and Anti-welfare Discourse

Aura Charlotta Lehtonen

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


The notion of ‘cultural poverty’ has a long history in the United Kingdom. The argument that there is something culturally distinct about poor, working-class, and/or benefit recipient populations that sets them apart from the rest of society, and moreover, that these cultures are self-perpetuating, has tended to be deployed in the service of a politics that blames the cultures of the poor for poverty and economic disadvantage. The most recent resurgence of such arguments can be found in the austerity and anti-welfare agendas of the Coalition Government (2010–2015) and the post-Coalition Conservative Government(s) (2015–present). This article examines the 2017 Department for Work and Pensions policy paper ‘Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families’ that sets out the Government’s vision for tackling poverty and engrained disadvantage and argues, first, that the policy paper reproduces the cultural poverty argument. Second, I argue that the paper positions the family as the location in which the cultures of the poor and disadvantaged are reproduced, and consequently also as the proper site for government action to interrupt the cycle of reproduction, highlighting familial gender dynamics, reproductive arrangements, and parenting practices as key aspects of the discursive framing of poverty within austerity and anti-welfare politics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)84-99
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number1
Early online date3 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • child poverty
  • culture
  • disadvantage
  • family
  • parenting
  • poverty
  • worklessness

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