Since the advent of modern social science, sociologists and criminologists have been preoccupied with finding the answer to what is the root cause of criminal (or deviant) behaviour and, therefore, what are the best ways to prevent it. Many theories have been put forward on the subject. Some of them have since been completely discredited — like Lombroso’s theory that you can determine a person’s propensity toward criminal behaviour by measuring certain physiological traits such as head size. But much of the focus and research into the causes of crime has centred around the impact of social deprivation or poverty on those who commit it. Poverty is a huge problem worldwide, the US census in 2010 recorded that 15.1% of people in the US live in poverty, and for those aged under 18’s the rate was even higher at 22%. While the numbers in absolute poverty have been dropping there were still 1.4billion people on less than $1.25 per day as of 2005. Oxfam records that 1 in 5 in the UK live below the poverty line, and this is mostly children, pensioners or disabled people. The interest in poverty in relation to crime stems mainly from the factual reality that there is a significant, proven correlation between the two. However, in this debate the proposition needs to show there is more than just a correlation, but that a major cause of crime lies in social deprivation. Also, ‘crime’ needs to be defined carefully, as it is a term which covers a very wide variety of activities and behaviours which are very difficult to address together (for example, burglary, incitement to racial hatred, insider trading, paedophilic abuse, driving over the speed limit and murder).
In some impoverished families there is simply no possibility of work and in many countries where there is no welfare benefits this means that the family cannot afford food, shelter or healthcare. Even in some places where there are benefits, this is often not enough to cover the family’s way (for example healthcare is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US) and thus some members of the family may be driven to desperate measures in order to be able to afford provisions. If no other options are open to them this desperation can result in measures such as theft, drug dealing or blackmail (See appendix). Furthermore often extreme poverty is linked to substance abuse, often as a respite from these terrible conditions. This in turn breeds more crime as people have to fund their addictions. However in this case it seems clear that it is the desperation of poverty that causes these people to commit crimes. Many people believe racism, and therefore crimes such as incitement to racial hatred or ‘hate crimes’, are more likely to occur in areas of social deprivation. The theory suggests that a mix of poverty, unemployment and segregation causes’ high tension can cause a ‘scapegoat’ culture on either, and indeed both, sides.
 Tamkins, Theresa, ‘Medical bills prompt more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies’, CNN Health, 5 June 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-05/health/bankruptcy.medical.bills_1_med...
Some people counter this argument by claiming it is not that people who are in extreme poverty that are more likely to take drugs, but those who take drugs are more likely to be in extreme poverty, as drugs are expensive and many drug users are unstable and therefore unable to keep a job. This could be taken to suggest that poverty is not a cause of crime in itself, but might merely be associated with other factors which cause it. Therefore to tackle the crime of drug use, we do not need to tackle social deprivation, but the drug use itself.
Furthermore the argument that poverty increases the likelihood of racism or racist crime can be refuted if we acknowledge one of the most famous cases of racist crime, apartheid in South Africa. This event is now considered a crime against humanity, "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime". However, it was also created and maintained by politicians and many of the upper class in a stable and well-off society, thus this hate crime cannot be attributed to social deprivation. Even racist actions that occurred in socially deprived areas at this time or later must be looked at in a wider context and it seems clear that social deprivation alone cannot be blamed.
 United Nations General Assembly, ‘International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid’, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 30 November 1973, http://web.archive.org/web/20061001200717/http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu...
We are not born with an innate sense of right and wrong, a prior knowledge of what is legal and illegal. We acquire it through education, both at home and at school. The internalization of these social norms is a crucial part of becoming a law-abiding citizen and acquiring the respect toward the law our society demands. Children from poor backgrounds are more likely to be raised in environments where such distinctions are blurred, where they are exposed to negative role models within their family or community. They may also experience very erratic or low-quality schooling, This may be because the schools have inadequate levels of funding or supplies, the classes are more likely to have disruptive children or that better teachers are more sought after and thus go to other schools. As a result, they might become desensitized to crime, or violence as a result of being exposed to it on a regular basis. They might then start to view crime not as against social order but as a part of it and that will make them more likely to break the law themselves.
While it seems defendable that we learn moral values at a young age, the proposition argument does not look with the factual evidence about the individuals who are most likely to get involved in criminal activity. Criminologists came up with the ‘age-crime curve’. This reveals that the profile of the average criminal is a male between the ages of 15 and 25. After the age of 25, the majority of criminals desist. Presuming that this pressure of social deprivation affects everyone in society in the same way, more steps need to be taken in order to explain why predominantly males between the ages of 15 and 25 seem to respond to it in this manner. This further goes to suggest that perhaps social deprivation is not a primary cause, but that factors such as age and gender play as much of a part in the likelihood of criminal activity.
 Bottoms, Professor Sir Antony E., ‘Crime prevention for youth at risk: some theoretical concerns’, Resource Material Series, No.68, 129th International Senior Seminar Visiting Experts’ Papers, pp.21-34.
Some people, particularly those from deprived social or economic backgrounds may feel that their government is not helping them or listing to/care about their problems. When this happens to a large group of people, they may feel crime is the only way they can have their frustrations heard. One example of this would be the Brixton riots in 1981 (See Appendix). In some states where government criticism is itself against the law, breaking the law is in fact the only way to have your feeling heard. However, this is of particular importance to those from socially deprived back grounds for three reasons, firstly they are often the ones most ignored by their government and secondly they are the ones who would benefit most if society were to change. Finally, for some people from poor social or economic backgrounds, crime is the only outlet they have to vent their anger or frustration as all other options have been blocked for them.
The opposition to this argument is that nothing can or should be gained through crime. There are many ways of making voices heard without resulting to criminal activity. None-violent measures such as bus boycotts, freedom rides, sit-ins and mass demonstrations were used during the African American Civil Rights Movement. This movement succeeded in bringing about legislative change, and making separate seats, drinking fountains, and schools for African Americans illegal. Another example is the 2003 Women of Libya mass Action for Peace, or the more current (2011) uprisings in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. To use an example of the Tunisian uprisings, the people spoke out against huge unemployment and government corruption. Thus though many of the protesters were from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, criminal acts were not taken and yet they still achieved the freedom that followed from the 24-year-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing the country a month later. Therefore that people feel crime is the only outlet they have cannot be a reason to support the idea that social deprivation is the primary cause of criminal activity.
Tax evasion is costing the developing world around $160 billion a year to those who most need it (incidentally this is more than the entire global aid budget). These are huge, global crimes that have effects of billions of people. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to illustrate how some of the tax evaders can cause poverty, illness and even death to others; as the money they do not pay in tax can therefore not be used for road safety, pensions, healthcare, world aid or many other institutions (that the tax evaders are still able to make use of). This illustrates how the crime of tax evasion can have serious consequences. In the US the most common tax evader is a male, under 50 and of the highest earning bracket. Globally the most common tax evaders are large multi-national companies. This illustrates that these large scale crimes are not being committed by those from deprived backgrounds, but rather from the greed of the wealthy to have more wealth.
While the figures demonstrated in this argument clearly illustrate that these large scale crimes are more often committed by those who are not suffering from social deprivation, tax evasion constitutes a small percentage of the world wide crime rate, and thus should not be taken to prove that social deprivation is not the primary source of crime.
We live in a culture where success and personal achievement is measured on a material scale - what you own, how much you make, what car you drive, what clothes you wear. This means that it is the way society is structured to make us crave material objects which is the primary cause of crime. As society values wealth and material goods over everything else people might turn to crime in order to acquire these much-vaunted markers of personal achievement, to which they feel entitled. Seeing no other avenue for personal and financial success, they might easily choose to get involved in illegal but somewhat profitable activities — like drug dealing, theft or burglary, running prostitution rings, racketeering, etc. However if society was to value traits such as honesty, hard work or loyalty over personal holdings then perhaps the levels of crime would not be so high.
This opposition argument two is not as clear cut as it seems. While it is true that society encourages us to value material goods, and that this encourages crime, it is also clear that this effects those from socially deprived areas much more than those from stable or wealthy backgrounds. In many socially deprived societies, the lack of education and resources invested in the younger generation mean that the poverty cycle continues to define how well these young people will do as adults. The family they are born into is still the biggest predictor of a person’s life trajectory. If social mobility is not a truly viable option for young people from impoverished backgrounds to succeed, they may see crime as the only way to reach the material goods that so commonly are associated with personal achievement. One current example of this is the riots that occurred in major cities throughout the UK in 2011. Perhaps one of the most notable acts of the riots was the looting, particularly as the majority of looting was from high street stores not for necessities or for high end goods, but rather for average things the looters wanted. Zoe Williams explains the riots as such ‘this is what happens when people don't have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can't afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it’. Therefore in this case criminality is caused by consumerism as the opposition argument two suggests, but this is compounded by the cyclical nature of social deprivation that looks unlikely to be solved.
While it is true that crime is correlated with people coming from poorer socio-economic backgrounds this does not in itself prove that poverty itself is the cause of crime. A lack of education or bad parenting might be equally, if not more convincing explanations for both phenomena. The causation may even be reversed, with those who indulge in violent behaviour and who seek illegal short-cuts to success rather than being prepared to hold down a steady job being more likely to end up poor. For example, recent studies have found that street-level drug dealers make less than the minimum wage. So poverty is not a cause of crime in itself, but might merely be associated with other factors which cause it. In order to tackle crime, therefore, we don’t need to eradicate poverty, but improve people’s internalization of social norms through law enforcement and education.
This is ridiculous. Why is the drug dealer a drug dealer? Because he is poor and has few other prospects. He is not poor just because he is a criminal as something had to get him in to crime in the first place. In many cases that initial motivating factor was poverty or a lack of prospects. If it was true that the causation was reversed then there would be much more social mobility because those who started poor and deprived but wanted to work and were fundamentally honest would be socially mobile.
Alexander, Christopher, ‘Tunisia’s protest wave: where it comes from and what it means’, The Middle East Channel ForeignPolicy.com, 3 January 2011, http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/02/tunisia_s_protest_wave_where_it_comes_from_and_what_it_means_for_ben_ali
BBC News, ‘Brixton riots: Archive’, 10 April 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13012055
BBC News, ‘Q&A: The Scarman Report’, 27 April 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/3631579.stm
Bottoms, Professor Sir Antony E., ‘Crime prevention for youth at risk: some theoretical concerns’, Resource Material Series, No.68, 129th International Senior Seminar Visiting Experts’ Papers, pp.21-34. http://www.unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/RS_No68/No68_06VE_Bottoms2.pdf
Christian Aid, ‘Christian Aid urges G20 to crach down on tax dodging pinstripe ‘pirates’, 3 September 2009, http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/September2009/christian-aid-urges-g20-to-crack-down-on-tax-dodging-pinstripe-pirates.aspx
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Tamkins, Theresa, ‘Medical bills prompt more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies’, CNN Health, 5 June 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-05/health/bankruptcy.medical.bills_1_medical-bills-bankruptcies-health-insurance?_s=PM:HEALTH
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United Nations General Assembly, ‘International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid’, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 30 November 1973, http://web.archive.org/web/20061001200717/http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/11.htm
Williams, Zoe, ‘The UK riots: the psychology of looting’, guardian.co.uk, 9 August 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-psychology-of-looting