From the TUC

Time to ditch “middle class” in serious journalism

21 Aug 2009, by in Politics, Society & Welfare

The Guardian deserves much praise for Polly Curtis’s story today finding that 50% of private school pupils get A grades in their A levels. Polly writes that this is:

“prompting claims that attempts to break the middle-class stranglehold on entry to higher education have failed this year.” (our emphasis).

But going to private school does not put you in the middle of anything. Only the top few per cent of society can afford private school fees. Yes, I know that some parents make real sacrifices, but they still need to be able to start pretty near the top of the income distribution to have enough money to sacrifice.

Using ‘middle-class’ in this way is very helpful to those who want to maintain inequality. Lots of people think of themselves as being – or aspire to being – middle-class, but using it to define a small group at the top – a staple of Mail and Express journalism – is all about trying to obscure the unfair distribution of income and opportunity.

As our ToUChstone pamphlet Life in the Middle shows, the real middle Britain has not done well and don’t have the means to use private education. Their political and economic interests do not lie in aligning themselves with those at the top – those who want to construct that alliance are keen to use middle-class in this way. The Guardian should not, especially in such a fine exposure of privilege.

7 Responses to Time to ditch “middle class” in serious journalism

  1. Jane White
    Aug 22nd 2009, 7:44 am

    Why make this a class issue? What a pointless throwback to an old world most of us have long left behind. As for private education being only open to the “top few” percent of society, it is undoubedly true that very few parents can simply pay for school fees out of freely disposable income. http://www.allaboutschoolfees.com was established to identify how much private education actually costs and to provide savings guidlines for parents to allow them to save in advance for private education. Most users of the site start saving within three years of their children being born and need save less than £1000 a month. I realise this is still a substantial amount but doubt this equates to only being affordable to the “top few”.

  2. Charlie Marks
    Aug 23rd 2009, 3:12 am

    Jane, on top of all the other bills, very few families could cope with school fees – especially in the middle of a recession.

    You might have left behind class as an issue – good for you – but most other people have not.

  3. johninnit

    John
    Aug 24th 2009, 10:33 am

    Less than a thousand a month? Good to know that I (with a salary putting me in the top 20% of UK earners) could also leave class behind and start saving now to send my kids to private school when they’re older, for only slightly more than our entire household income every month…

  4. Matthew
    Sep 3rd 2009, 7:51 pm

    What about reintroducing “upper class”? I heard the Duchess of York being described on Radio4 as bringing “middle class values” into working class households with her forays into council houses. Surely someone who married into the Royal Family can’t really be bracketed in with most “middle class” families, no matter how you define that term.

  5. Charlie Marks
    Sep 3rd 2009, 11:17 pm

    For sure, Matthew…

  6. Nigel Stanley

    Nigel Stanley
    Sep 4th 2009, 10:00 am

    I think using class at all in these kind of discussions is nearly always confusing. Class in Britain is not directly related to income or wealth, but a much more complex construction.

    Why don’t we just call the rich the rich?

  7. Charlie Marks
    Sep 4th 2009, 10:17 pm

    Good points Nigel – however “super-rich” is a more useful term to be clear we are talking about the few, not the many.