As you’re no doubt aware, Marx had a lot to say about work, poverty and welfare. This in turn means that Marxists have a lot to say about work, poverty and welfare — and you have to learn it. Lucky you!

So, for starters you should know that Marxist theorists would argue the threat of poverty gives people an incentive to take on low-paid work, which makes sense. So, to take it one step further, Marxists argue that poverty is the outcome of capitalism, while low-paid workers (the proletariat) are the source of profit which accrues to the ruling class (the bourgeoisie).

the threat of poverty motivates people to work even when poorly paid, which provides cheap labour out of which the ruling class make profit. Meanwhile, the non-working poor function as a reserve pool of labour. This means that workers have to compete for jobs, which disincentivises them from demanding better working conditions and/or rewards for their skills. Poverty therefore creates a divide amongst the working class, between the poor and the non-poor, weakening any unified challenge to the capitalist system from the working class that would change the status quo. Sound depressing? Probably because it is…

By extension, Marxist approaches see the welfare state within a capitalist system as a form of social control. They frame it as a means of maintaining a social order that benefits the bourgeoisie by preventing extreme levels of inequality that might lead to significant protest and social unrest which could destabilise the system, and instead maintaining the hegemonic illusion of a fair and caring system.