The working class, once the backbone of Great Britain, has increasingly become the object of ridicule from both the media and great swathes of the population at large. Few would be so socially bankrupt as to outright lambast perceived lifestyles and attitudes of the poorer members of society when referring to them as the working class, which is one of the reasons terms such as ‘chav’ and ‘hoodie’ exist. Pejorative from the outset, they provide a backdrop against which all manner of ill accusations may be made, regarding standards of education and living, the things money is spent on and particularly how it is obtained, and even speculated promiscuity.
Borrowing from Martin Luther King’s rhetoric, we have to ask ourselves why we have millions cast in the stereotyped roles of Shameless. As King suggested, so to do raises questions of our capitalistic system, but also, which King didn’t suggest, an analysis of the current opportunities available to the working class, and whether or not they are being maximised.
Pre-Thatcher, British industry provided breadwinner jobs for millions of British men (and less often, women). Over time, as outsourcing of manufacture became first possible and later inevitable, and the government found itself pouring subsidies into British industry to safeguard the jobs. Ultimately, the cost of this became unpalatable to Thatcher, who sought to accelerate the transition towards a greater-proportioned service economy. Over the course of her first five years in power, Thatcher made great strides in her war and millions found themselves unemployed, and, which is perhaps worse, without positions with parity of pay to walk into. A worker earning enough from his specialist manufacturing role to support a mortgage and family will not do the same from the lower-level service jobs available, such as waitressing or retail work.
Thirty years on, Thatcher is seen by many as the destroyer of communities as far apart as South Wales and County Durham, with all of the mining communities in between, having not only killed work in her time but offered no future, because the work was never replaced.
In a free market economy, private business owners can provide employment and benefit from it by turning workers into customers. Lower socioeconomic classes are shown more than any other class to spend almost every penny they earn. Hence by employing these workers and having them and their families become customers, businesses can grow, workers get richer as the demand creates more work, and the economy at large expands. The difficulty is it takes a leap of faith on the part of employers to make this a reality.
In Owen Jones’ ‘Chavs,’ he lambasts the Thatcherite period and highlights the advantages that middle class children enjoy over their working class peers that enable them to excel at school and take the best positions in the workplace. One such advantage is that mothers may be able to afford to stay at home in a middle class family, and can teach their children to read, for example. The same opportunity is afforded to the unemployed, yet this goes without mention.
Further to this, having taught for over a decade, it is clear to me that children who work hard on their basic skills of literacy and numeracy, coupled with an interest in reading that requires fostering over time, can excel. The vast majority can attend university, graduate with a degree befitting their effort levels and gain employment the same. If the goal is to earn more money, though it is not the only route, graduates earn more on average and so university is a good place to begin a career. For many professions, where respectable pay is granted upon entry, teaching being one, a disadvantaged background need not provide a ceiling to the future. Jobs eliminated thirty years ago, creating deprivation in a community, need not limit the aspirations of its children today. When we see documentaries on terrestrial television suggest communities are akin to Beirut in places, hopelessly cut off, I do not accept this. People wishing to climb rungs on the socioeconomic ladder have the means so to do through their course of education as children. As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure are children are given every opportunity to succeed in that endeavour. That takes time, patience and a great deal of encouragement.
For fifty years or more, whatabout arguments have avoided the need for introspection. Each party, when accused of taking away opportunities and cutting communities off (government) or being idle and an underclass (benefit claimants, if you read the comments in the Daily Mail, at any rate), responds with a what about you, yes but look at what you are doing response. Perhaps the truth is neither quite does all it can, and when it does, the rising tide will lift all ships, the inequality gap will narrow, bringing greater prosperity to all.