Growing up my dad would often tell me 'the rich get richer and the poor get poorer'. My dad always strongly identified as a working class man but nowadays identification by class doesn't seem to be such a talked about thing. That led me to wondering whether class is still as prevalent in our generation as that of our parents. As someone who does still identify as working class herself, I wanted to look into this more.
It is fair to say that class was quite prominent in my childhood. I grew up living in council houses in various distinctly white, upper-class villages - people are often surprised that these places actually have council estates. It's like we've been brushed under the rug. Hidden away like the village's dirty secret. People have quite set ideas about the kind of people who live on council estates. They are usually lazy, depraved individuals whose very existence is a drain on public funds. I remember revealing to my first serious boyfriend (a rich, Oxbridge educated man from a well-to-do family) that I grew up on a council estate and his response was a mixture of shock and curiosity - the same kind of curiosity I can imagine people had for circus animals in the 1800s. It made me uncomfortable as he pushed me to give details of all my neighbours - he wanted to know the sorts of people who live in those kind of places. Skip forward to college when a local Lib Dem MP came to talk and everyone, of course, asked about the Lib Dems not upholding promises to ban uni tuition fees in the coalition. His argument was that working people's tax shouldn't fund further education as the kind of people who get into universities are those who can afford to fund themselves and not those of low income backgrounds. This presumption that people from low income backgrounds will never amount to anything had been in the back of my mind for most of my education because of the opinions put forward by the media and people like this MP. I guess as a working class woman studying at a Russell Group university, I must be something of an anomaly.
But, despite my experiences in earlier life, class is something that I haven't heard discussed in the last few years in the UK. I believe that there is an optimism in this country that you can achieve through hard work and talent. Shows like X Factor are a perfect example. But I can't fight this feeling that class still plays a larger role than people care to admit. We watch programmes like Jeremy Kyle and Benefit Street which delight in the humiliation of working class people. They are presented as unintelligent and undesirable. Thereby the viewer, if they happen to be middle class, are able to affirm their own sense of civilised identity by using the working class as a basis for what they are not. Although this can be brushed off as being just entertainment, there's no denying the factor of class that is underlying here.
In Britain, class is not discussed to a great extent because the majority aren't affected by it and we are able to work hard in order to live comfortably. But in a country governed by a majority that is educated in Eton and Oxbridge and were born into a world of trust funds and 'daddy, I want a pony', the 'class isn't a thing anymore' pill is difficult to swallow. Living in a country governed by those who are disconnected from a large portion of society is especially problematic. We have seen recently the cutting of student grants means that a large amount of young people feel like they wouldn't be able to afford university as their parents wouldn't be able to help them financially. In my own experience, I have found that having to have a job alongside my studies has affected my grades as I have less time to read the material and prepare for lectures. This all stems from the fact that I have to work in order to survive due to my family's lack of excess income unlike my middle and upper class counterparts. This can be seen throughout the education system. Children from low income families often don't eat breakfast or rely on a diet of cheap convenience food (as fresh food is expensive) which affects their ability to learn as their body and brain isn't getting the nourishment it needs which affects concentration and memory amongst other things. Clearly being born poor sets you at a disadvantage.
I still believe that class is something that is underlying in our society and possibly the higher you move up the ladder (into better paid jobs) the more prominent these distinctions become. This is especially the case in Parliament and those in government jobs due to the high amount of upper class individuals. Although I remain optimistic that anyone can move out of the cycle of poverty through hard graft, class is something that sticks regardless of your wealth in this country. I will forever be that council estate kid and I am proud of it as it has instilled in me a real drive to work hard and succeed. But those thoughts of not belonging when I'm in certain environments - like posh restaurants - will probably never leave me. This shows that class is still a factor in the UK due to the internalisation of not being good enough by the working class because of what is perpetuated in the media. But we are out here working hard but those with money and connections are still able to jump to the top of the ladder.
What are your opinions? Do you think class distinctions still exist in the UK? If you're from abroad, what's the role of class in your country?
Disclaimer: I do not own these images
Disclaimer: I do not own these images