You are now leaving Working England, Welcome to Middle England: The socio-economic underachievement of Neo-Liberalism in attaining reduced class disparity
by Elijah Pryor
Mon 6th May 2013
Since the economic reform of the 1980’s politicians like Blair, Thatcher and Prescott absolutely believe that the working class no longer exist and the majority of UK citizens are now middle class (Jones, 2011). This is most probably because they are afraid of the potential working class solidarity and the action it can generate as seen in the events of the Cuban revolution, the UK miners’ strike, the UK general strikes etc. In 2011 ‘BritainThinks’ conducted research into class identification and results showed that around 71% of people claimed membership of the middle class (Shimshon and Mattinson, 2011). Great news! However the study barley holds any representation and generalisability for the UK population; the online poll used 2,000 participants which is the grand total of 0.003% of the overall residents living in Britain. Furthermore the study focused on areas of Leeds, London and Birmingham which means that it is difficult to generalise for other parts of the UK, especially when the rural South West and industrial North West aren’t taken into account.
However when party rhetoric falls short the media steps in with discrimination, alienation and mockery of working class communities; most famously the invention of folk devils such as ‘Vicky Pollard’ and’ Wayne and Waynetta Slob’ who are described and presented as feckless, drug using, lazy, benefit scrounging, lacking in self control and aggressive. These stereotypes help re-enforce unfair and fictitious views of the lower class in UK society which help promote not only a hate and distrust towards them by the general population, but also leaving distrust among the working class themselves (Jones, 2011; Adams and Raisborough, 2011). Depictions of working class people using recreational drugs in TV shows like Shameless are the result of the increase in drug users, 40,000 extra, in the 1980’s under Thatcher. Perhaps they forgot to mention it may be due to the ‘firing squad’ that the Tories led through their tearing up of public-sector jobs. But what should we do about media amplification and image prevarication of a social group? Could a complaints committee be set up to remove this kind of stereotyping in media? Unfortunately there is no easy answer and by removing stereotyping in the media then you have a problem with Liberals and Freedom Advocators who will meet you with a “it’s freedom of speech man. You’re trying to take away my freedom!” Of course moral fibre can’t give you the right to ban media programmes. Freedom of speech is a priceless gift which allows many a potential to change the ills of society, but if we are to truly use this gift then we must play by Mill's rules not a Frankenstein creation of neo-liberal democracy, John Stuart Mill saw freedom to act as necessary however if it causes physical or psychological harm (not moral harm), then regulation by the state may be needed (C. L. Ten, 1980). And is it not fair to say that these media creations do not cause harm on a psychological level? Perhaps even physical harm is possible when websites such as Chavsprotesters.8k.com and Chavtowns.co.uk talk of violence towards Chavs on their forums and suggest action against working class communities. Perhaps if the working class communities got together and started a TV show which presented positive images of their communities then public opinion may change. However when you have an elite running the media it’s a magnanimous challenge, one that requires solidarity and patience.
The Working class are losing opportunities to break through into higher education and try and dispel myths about working class attitudes. One of the major reasons for this is the pre-conception of underachievement and undermining of cultural values of the working class, by the bourgeoisie education system, leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy which lands a greater desire for material motives, such as Nike and Adidas clothing, and a less sympathetic attitude towards educational progression or potentially a severe anti-school attitude that could result in expulsion (Willis, 1977; Archer et al, 2007). Whilst it is unfair to say that all working class children fail to advance to university level, social barriers certainly make it a difficult and sometimes an impossible path to take. The media acts as a tool for the corporate and conservative types in the dismembering of social solidarity and action among working class communities, The Daily Mail’s constant attack on benefit launderers is a pathetic argument to make when only 0.7% of benefits goes to fraudsters and 99.3% of people claiming benefits are eligible to do so (Trades Union Congress, 2012). However if The Daily Mail are so intent on eliminating the benefit scroungers perhaps they would like to suggest an alternative method in which people living in low-income households can claim a liveable wage in a Neo-Liberal society, because unfortunately the circus has already filled it’s job vacancies with the performing monkey David Cameron and his cabinet of clowns.
The discrimination of a social group that already faces extreme inequalities in most institutions is a severe form of bullying and harassment on part of capitalism and its followers. Savage’s (2000) research shows that in fact the only labourers who earned over the average UK weekly wage were ‘professionals, managers and associate professionals’ whereas labourers involved in ‘craft, clerical, machine and plant operating’ earned up to £100 less than the average wage in the UK in 1998 ((Warde (1997) points out that the working class aren’t able to afford better quality of food because of their low wages which results in health inequalities whilst their counterparts enjoy a rich variety of food, some democracy!). Why is it that working class people earn less for the jobs they do? Is it because there not as important or they do not work hard? The New Economics Foundation (2012) certainly doesn’t think so, their report ‘A Bit Rich’ examines the importance of manual jobs for our society and highlights the underpayment of many employees, especially hospital cleaners who perform the duty of making sure there isn’t an unclean environment where diseases can thrive where people are supposed to be recovering from illness. It seems like a simple job to most people but no matter how simple it is you can’t disregard the very importance of disease prevention. Furthermore all those other ‘simple jobs’ just so happen to be incredibly important. Who delivers your post (which most likely comes from various different areas over the UK perhaps even the world) if not the postmen and women? Who is it who makes sure you have fruit and vegetables available on demand at the supermarket and grocery shops if not the farm labourer? How would you make a doctors or dentist appointment without contacting a receptionist? It seems that in our society we just ‘assume’ that these things are going to be done and tend not to notice the great importance of these jobs roles. Perhaps Neo-liberal capitalism has desensitised us as we seek further excitement through involvement in the system? For some in the UK the prospect of unlimited capital and personal expansion is a good one but for most the prospect of having the money to survive and a decent life is still one that captures the imagination of many working class families and those living in poverty.