Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Class in Britain today

According to the Great British Class Survey, our society is now divided into seven social classes, instead of the traditional three – upper, middle and working class.


Class in Britain  4Steve Latham


A research project organised by the BBC and several universities has drawn on empirical findings, using data about cultural interests, such as musical taste, as well as income and savings.

Visitors to Britain often comment on our class consciousness. Perhaps the new breakdown may illuminate matter for them?

  • Elite: with good university educations and large savings.
  • Established Middle Class: the largest group, with high income and sophisticated artistic interests.

Class in Britain  9

  • New Affluent Worker: mainly young adults with some cultural interests, but limited wealth.
  • Technical Middle Class: with good incomes but not much cultural credibility.
  • Traditional Working Class: ageing and shrinking in number as traditional manual occupations decline.
  • Emergent Service Worker: young and mainly urban, not well-off but very culturally active.
  • Precariat: with very low incomes, often on welfare, and usually excluded from higher education.

Class in Britain  8It is however foolish to use cultural interests as indicators of class. These do not demonstrate one’s class position.

In the survey, if your musical taste ran to hip hop, it automatically lowered your status. While if you adored opera, you raise in the pecking order.

Class is more to do with power, or in Marxist terms one’s relation to the means of production. How much control do we have over our lives, over our work?

For this, Marx’s categories are still relevant today. The haut bourgeoisie still dominate our society. In Britain the gap between rich and poor has risen faster than in any other developed country.

From the 1970s, the high-water mark of social equality, the top 1% have doubled their share of the national income from 7% to 14%.

Padres unidos mariposa ninaBy ignoring the relations of domination in Britain today, this report has merely produced a set of arbitrary categories, rather than classes expressing the power relationships in our society.

Each of the middling categories listed in the report actually correspond to the petit bourgeoisie, to again use Marxist terminology.

Occupying functional positions within capitalist society, these groupings possess aspirational cultural tastes, but have no power over their jobs.

Indeed, they are often so materially insecure, that they constantly fear demotion into the lower orders.

contribuyentes contra la pobreza1The new category of precariat has low earnings and is dependent on welfare. Marx, however, had already identified this lumpen proletariat, recently recategorised as an urban underclass.

But wider concept of ‘precarity’ describes the experience of many people today. In conditions of present-day capitalist recession and restructuring everyone feels their situation to be precarious.

And the proletariat? Declining in Britain, it is being exported globally to countries with cheap labour, forming an external proletariat.

The situation does not however support those who hope that the precariat will provide a new radical political force for change.

niños pobres 5It is often observed that revolutions arise when expectations are rising. This is not so today. Hope for change has vanished for many people. Where will we find it again?

(You can discover what class you belong to by taking the BBC class survey at )


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