Seven Is The New Three: Britain's Newfangled Class System

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The BBC recently teamed up with academics and concluded that we now have seven social classes in Britain rather than three. The experiment was based not just on economic criteria but on social and cultural information too. In other words, the "experts" found a newfangled way to pigeonhole the British public. Fantastic.

Firstly, they fashioned some fancy new labels for the traditional three classes (now named the Elite, the Established Middle Class and the Traditional Working Class), then threw in some novel categories for good measure. The ‘Elite’ is the equivalent of the former ‘first-class’. According to the BBC, this high-brow bunch can be found gallivanting around museums, rolling around in their masses of money and entertaining their aristocratic mates, while a jazz band plays in the back-ground. There’s also the established middle-class: less ‘elite’ than the Elite class but still extremely financially secure and engaged socially and culturally. Finally, there is the traditional working class which the BBC describes as older and ‘not totally deprived.’ I’m sure I wouldn't be alone in feeling degraded if someone described me in this manner, especially if it was a computer making this judgement on the basis of a five question survey.

Freshly devised is the ‘Precariat’. Economically, culturally and socially impoverished, the lives of this category is described as ‘precarious’, as the imaginative label suggests. Meanwhile, the ‘Technical Middle Class’ are described on a BBC podcast as those who ‘work in laboratories’ or ‘fix your laptop’. They have high economic capital but, it is asserted, low social engagement and limited cultural awareness, seemingly resonating the sort of solitary, world-domination-plotting character you might watch in a clichéd sci-fi film. Other categories are the ‘Emergent Service Workers’ and the ‘New Affluent Workers’ both with various criteria of their own, triggering too, a whole host of stereotypes which is the unavoidable backlash of this kind of labelling. This new class system is designed to better represent the British public.

Am I the only one that thinks it’s a bit of a joke? How much can a five question quiz really reveal about a person’s social identity? I’m no sociologist, but I would argue not all that much. My mother, despite the fact she is nearing sixty and hasn’t worked in years, was thrust unceremoniously into the category of ‘Affluent New Worker’, exposing the ridiculousness of the system.

However, this is beside the point. The real question is what do we gain from such an exercise? I’m sure the ‘Emergent Service Workers’ of yesteryear weren't crying into their pillows because they didn't have a pretentious label to define them. The thought of experiencing life as a ‘Precariat’ would probably make the ‘Elite’ choke on their caviar and this categorisation process only further reinforces an already prevalent social gulf. In a society that is supposedly moving towards equality, drawing further attention to social divides seems senseless to me and, in fact, going as far as slapping a label on them is frankly idiotic.

Jacqueline Agate

I'm an English Literature and Language student at the University of Leeds, aspring to be a journalist. I also write for Leeds Student newspaper and Lippy: No Gloss magazine. Aside from writing, I love cooking, films and losing myself in a good book!

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