14 November 2007

Social Class in Britain

One almost axiomatic claim of New Labour, which is endorsed by the wider political establishment, is that social classes have disappeared in Britain. This is indeed a strange assumption when juxtaposed with the facts.

First, while during Labour’s second term there might have been some levelling around the middle of the income range, overall social inequality is greater today than at any point since 1945. At the top, the income and wealth of the super rich is accelerating while a new layer of impoverished East European workers is formed at the bottom. Second, following the American model social mobility is slowing down. Schooling is becoming ever more selective, university ever more expensive and communities ever more divided. Third, it would not seem, unlike the US, that class consciousness has not fallen away with the proportions of people calling themselves ‘working’ and ‘middle’ class hardly changing over the New Labour decade.

So the only real change is not in the social topography of Britain, but in the abandonment of reference to social class in British politics.

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