When I was a lad class was easy to recognise. The working class wore flat 'ats, their wives headscarves.The middle class wore trilbies or cheese cutter caps for the young ones,and the upper class wore top hats, even at school and probably in bed. Much more difficult to recognise them now in the range from Tee shirts and tattoos through New Look and Marks &Spencers to Saville Row because society has changed shape and what was a pyramid with a broad working class base has narrowed at the bottom and swelled out in the middle."We're all middle class now" some say.We're not.Sixty per cent of the population still describe themselves as working class though the boundaries are less clear..
Britain is still a divided society .The basic division isn't ethnic or religious, its class. The lower down the ladder you are the shorter your life, the weaker your health, the worse your education and the dirtier the deal you get from society. Britain is a country run for the benefit of the middle and uppers allowing them to live well on the backs of the people because we don't think there's enough growth and wealth to provide for everyone and social advance has become a zero-sum game not a question of raising all boats.
Thus it has always been. Except that from the turn of the last century the working class began to receive the benefits of the industrialisation imposed on them in the nineteenth century.Things began to improve and after the Second World War they were rewarded for their sufferings in depression and war by the tilting the social balances towards them. Full employment, a welfare state, social reforms and economies run for growth. We"re their reward.
These never had it so good years came to an end when the postwar settlement fell apart because of inflation,industrial action and balance of payments problems in the seventies .The answer from governments driven by a revived neoliberal philosophy was to blame the workers and shift the balances back to wealth. Worker power was broken by the castration of the unions and the end of full employment.Their welfare benefits were cut and house building of public rented properties for them largely came to a halt.
The sacrifices required by recession were placed squarely on working class shoulders not on the backs of those who'd caused the recession by their irresponsible greed, and the new approach became one of taking money from the workers to force them into work and give it to the rich as an incentive.The assumption was that they alone provided the dynamic of the economy so their enrichment would trickle down to the workers much as feeding more hay to horses generates more trickle down to feed the sparrows. Growth slowed . Its benefits went to the rich not to the workers whose incomes and living standards stagnated.
Which is where we are today. A new gilded age in which wealth and the big corporations rule, the economy is under-run to keep the workers down, and growth pathetic. The workers are driven ever harder, their power to resist broken, and the rich greedily accumulating ever more, conservative government entrenched and Labour, the only party which might tilt the balances back even just a little, is broken by civil war.
What's more it's going to get worse.American research indicates that as growth has slowed since 1970 the bottom fifth of the population has got a smaller share of it and the top 1% far more. If this trend to inquality is allowed to go on then it becomes a zero sum game with the top groups growing at the expense of the bottom.Then you've got trouble. The only answer must be to boost growth , spread it more fairly and give more power to the proles all of which only the state can do. The market won't. So don't tell me class is a dead issue.