I’m a little late to the game but the other day I stumbled on the Daily Mail Class Check system which allows you to check which of Britain’s seven (yes SEVEN) social classes you belong to. There’s also one of these on the BBC website and many others I’m sure.
The test can be found in this article here along with simplistic definitions of each class, a news paper page asking “SO WHICH ONE ARE YOU IN?” and a video of Mike Savage from the London School of Economics explaining in yet more simple terms how we define these new classes. The video is intercut with a famous comedy sketch from the 1960s featuring John Cleese and the Two Ronnies about social class.
It’s all made out to be a big ol’ game really: Have fun with social disparity! But actually I didn’t really find it all that much fun really. I felt that was all a bit meaningless…
Here’s why; The entire test takes about 10 seconds and is made up of 3 tabs; Economic, Social and Cultural. After selecting from a couple of options this system easily works out where in society you stand. So, a quick, uninterested test informed me that I am part of the Precariat class because at the moment I have very little income, I have a lot of friends and I enjoy hip-hop… Interestingly, I decided to come back to the test and adjust my hobbies a bit and found out that if I say that I go to the theatre occasionally I actually raise up a class in Great British Society to Emergent Service Sector without any change to my income or social tabs. I also found out that someone can raise from Precariat to Emergent Service Sector simply by listening to a bit of jazz and watching some sports.
So it seems that the difference between at least these two classes is based on our social leanings rather than any real economic value. On the other hand, some of the upper classes rely on money only and the fact you have no friends and never leave the house don’t have anything to do with it. So somebody could inherit a house, give up work, and exist only on pot noodles and World of Warcraft and they’re still considered part of the Traditional Working Class. Someone in the exact same situation who rents out a room or two and so has a yearly income of roughly £25 – 50k jumps all the way up to Technical Middle Class skipping one class altogether, again without ever having to speak to another human being.
So I’m thinking the system here is kind of broken. I understand what it’s trying to do by saying that people from a poorer area are more likely to game and listen to hip hop than in richer areas where everyone goes out to ballet and listens to classical music, but frankly, I think that’s bullshit.
No matter how you look at it the class system is purely based on economic value, so at least one of these classes (Emergent Service Sector) is already redundant. But the reason I wanted to write this isn’t just to pull apart the Daily Mail’s little game, I’d actually like to make a comment on the whole idea of our seven class systems as a whole.
I’m open to the idea that there may have been a time where having distinct social classes had some practical application, but right now it seems to serve no purpose other than to drive divides between people. The reason I think the above system is broken is because class systems are like a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. The fact that there are now seven classes which are kind of hard to tell apart at times shows that there isn’t actually that much of a difference between people and that the classes are becoming more diverse and vague. But the fact that we have these classes creates this difference. As I said, there is no practical application to this any more, it’s not as if I can walk into a benefits office, show them a card stating that I’m Emergent Service Sector and they can instantly tell me why I’m entitled to less than the Precariat guy two booths over.
Instead, things like benefits, jobseekers allowance, etc, are all dealt with now on a case by case basis according to an individuals unique income and assets, and of course this is exactly the way it should be. It’s also completely likely that nowadays somebody could rise from a low class to a high one easily, such as landing a good job or inheriting some money/a house. It’s got much less to do with our upbringing now, although of course that is still a big factor for a lot of people.
All this begs the question then why we would continue to divide ourselves into these different groups.
Now the money side of things; as I said, I’m well educated and have worked all my life. The reason my income is so low and sporadic is that companies seem so reluctant to hire new people at the moment. Every job I’ve worked in for the last few years have been on zero hour contracts which often vanish with no warning. I’ve also been to several interviews and induction days (especially in London) for jobs which are either 100% commission based or almost 100% with a base rate way way lower than the national minimum wage. In fact the job I’m working now is the first full time, reasonably paid, stable work I’ve had for years and I had to move to Spain for it!
I’ve never once been asked about my education or social leanings when at an interview so I can only assume that these factors don’t actually affect my class level or employability. It’s also damn hard to make money as a contemporary artist right now with many arts council funding cuts, and other concerns (which I suppose is ironic as it seems the audience for the arts are better respected than the people producing it).
But whatever the reasoning, the simple fact is; I make very little money and the fact I might like theatre and jazz doesn’t change that. It definitely doesn’t make me better than the guy next door and the fact he likes games and hip hop doesn’t make him worse than me. We really are in the same boat and should respect each other as such.
The worst thing about pretending that social class has anything to do with our hobbies or whatever is that it splits people into the respectable and unrespectable poor. For the upper classes it doesn’t matter a lick what music, sports or social activities they undergo, they are still rich regardless, and the poor are still poor.
Another reason the social and cultural tabs are completely useless are because they sort of ellude to a different world to the one in which we live. Nowadays, in the internet age, the fact that someone doesn’t go out much can mean very little. Someone who spends 8-12 hours a day on the internet could well be watching youtube vids, or they might be planning a social revolution, or both.
As an artist I myself know that the contemporary art scene extends much further than the theatres and galleries you visit nowadays. I watch the work of various theatre companies from all over the world, communicate with them and even devise my own material with a few companies, all through Facebook and other social media. I think this test has a dated, or at least simplistic view of the internet, society and ‘culture’ in general.
The worst thing about having all these different classes is that it just gives us more ways to label and judge people, and I think that is something we really don’t need in the UK right now as we’re all having quite a hard time getting along as it is. It basically just comes down to being able to look at someone and feel superior to them. I feel better than this guy because I am cultured and he is not. We both spend our evening going through the dumpsters outside tescos, but at least he doesn’t know who Dostoyewski was.
What’s also funny is that if we look at the accumulated debt of individuals I’m actually a hell of a lot richer than some working professionals who own their own homes but who are also £120,000 in debt, so surely I should be in a higher class than them?
Obviously its all very, very complicated, there’s a lot of opinion and subjectivity involved so I’m not going to carry on too much, but the point is I wholeheartedly believe that unless this information is used to improve the living circumstances of people and to even out the massive social disparity in this country (which I also wholeheartedly believe it will not be) then splitting us again into more social groups does nothing but hinder us and breed unacceptence and even hate, as is being proved by the horrendous way our lower classes are being publicly shamed, and the way the upper classes are so despised on street level.