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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 13:06 GMT
What is working class?
Little Britain's Vicky Pollard
Does Vicky Pollard sum up the working class?

The Magazine answers...

According to a survey of social attitudes, 57% of adults in the UK claim to be working class. But what is that in today's society?

We're all middle class now, aren't we? Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott thinks so, but he appears to be in the minority.

A staggering 57% of us consider ourselves to be working class, according to the annual British Social Attitudes survey from the National Centre for Social Research. Even the centre thinks this is "remarkable".

BBC graphic
A feature to the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

There was once a time when class was clearly defined, but in recent years politicians have been banging on that the UK is now classless and a meritocracy. So what is working class nowadays?

The conventional measurement of class has been the social group classification system, where people are judged on their job. Up until recently Groups A and B were considered professional and middle class, while at the other end of the scale E was used to describe those "at the lowest level of subsistence".

The system had its first overhaul in 80 years in 1998 and eight new categories were drawn up. The highest includes senior managers, doctors and lawyers, while the lowest category is for those who have never worked or are long-term unemployed.

But even under the new system only 31% of people are actually employed in what are categorised as traditional "blue collar" occupations, according to the survey. The number who consider themselves working class far outstrips this.

Inverse snobbery

If it doesn't come down to job, what about education? The number of people going to university or college from what the government consider working class backgrounds has risen steadily for years. So, it would appear that having a degree does not make you middle class anymore.

It is not uncommon for people to put themselves in a class category that an official observer might not, says sociologist Wendy Bottero. This is because people define class by many things, like status and social origins, not just jobs and education.

People are just working class with more money, not middle class
Julian Baggini, philosopher
"There are so many definitions of what working class is," she says. "Which is why it's so difficult to pin down a definitive meaning. Socially and morally it is a heavily-laden term."

Research has shown that people often identify themselves with a label that is not perceived as pretentious - they don't want to be seen as a snob, she adds. This goes some way to explaining the survey's findings.

But the 57% are not kidding themselves - they are working class, says philosopher Dr Julian Baggini, author of Welcome to Everytown.

"Culturally this country still is predominantly working class," he says. "Superficially it seems we are middle class because we have more of the trappings of middle class life, but the majority of people are just working class with more money, not middle class."

Attitudes, likes and dislikes remain the same, he says. Television is a good example, as most successful prime time shows - like X Factor - are basically talent shows.

"It goes back to the working class tradition of working men's clubs. They were based around entertainment and music."

The one thing people do agree on is that class is still a national obsession - and an increasingly complex one at that.

I was born Working class (21yr old dad as Head of household was a labourer. Dropped to "underclass"(Single Parent on benefits) She remarried a Photographer (Lower middle class) and now I'm a teacher (Middle class). My social habits (football + pubs) and voting patterns are working class. But I enjoy international travel + museum visits (M/C) Is it any wonder I'm developing a multiple personality disorder.
kloxile, KL

I had a very middle class upbringing and was labelled posh at school. I didn't go to university and now manage a project and rent my house. My working class friends invariably have university degrees and own their own homes - they describe themselves as working class and I finally have the guts to say I'm middle class (according to my background and belief systems). But which of us is correct?
Joanna Young, Alnwick

I suppose I'm middle class - being a teacher with a university degree and having had parents who both were graduates too. But I go out to work every day... so I'm working class really. And I have good manners and speak clearly enough for other people to understand me and have a coat of arms, so maybe I'm upper class. The whole thing is silly and outmoded.
Megan, Cheshire UK

I am working class because I have a job, working for an employer, and that is where my income comes from. That fits the classic definition of class, as set out by Max Weber and developed by John H Goldthorpe, that class is about a person's relationship to the Labour market. (NOT the means of production, K Marx's most influential mistake!)
Alan Griffiths, Forest Gate, London E7

I suffer from what we Marxists refer to as "contradictory class location" - by upbringing, family background and consciousness I would count myself as being working class; by occupation, education, income and lifestyle I am clearly middle class. Workers of the world unite, you have no choice but to become bourgeoisified!!
Dr Daniel Ferrett, Oxford

i am working-class and proud of it! most people in britain are also working-class, even those who dont recognize it. if you are paid by bosses to work, and you dont own your business then you are working class according to marxist analyses which can still be useful today. Politicians who are themselves rich and powerful do not understand the levels of pervasive poverty, precarity and disempowerment in the British working class. they sneer at us for ignorance while making it impossible to afford a good education, and make us pay more for ever-worsening health care and services. even people who think they are well-off are often buying everything on credit cards.
Lucien, norwich

I always considered myself working class until I purchased my current home some years ago. The valuation report stated, "A middle class property situated in a quiet and affluent area of the town..."
Barry Reynolds, Wickford UK

I have a university degree, work from home for a French company in IT, earn above the average wage for London but I still consider myself working class. I suppose that is because of the type of place I come from, the fact that my parents haved both worked hard since they were 16 (with no higher education), and the school I went to was a comprehensive school next to a council estate. The interesting thing is, if I have kids, what class will they consider themselves? I agree that, apart from the very ends of society, we do live in a meritocracy. Your level of success in life depends far more on how your parents bring you up than what class you are brought up in.
Jane, London

One is a blue blooded royal
HM The Queen, london, uk

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