I do not subscribe to a “class conscious” philosophy that suggests that I shouldn’t condemn the animal cruelty involved in producing cheap meat in supermarkets because otherwise poor working class families wouldn’t be able to afford it, or that the environmental movement shouldn’t try to end cheap flights because otherwise working class families might not be able to take their one holiday a year to the costa del sol. I think that animal cruelty and environmental destruction are issues that concern everyone regardless of class.
But at the same time, I don’t think we should forget the following facts:
* The average income in Britain is £21,000.
* The average banker thinks the average income in Britain is £50,000.
* There are 2.5 million people unemployed, 800,000 people on incapacity benefit – and 500,000 job vacancies.
* Before Thatcher came to power, one in ten people lived in poverty. As of 2010, that number is now one in five.
* Of those people living in poverty, over half have a job. It’s just a shitty, low-paid job that can’t support them and their dependants.
Now, I should state that the reason that I bought this book was because I was at Marxism 2011 and heard Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, talk on the subject. It turns out that what he said was very little different from the content of the book, but the fact that I was sufficiently horrified and riveted to buy it should tell you much.
He’s pretty right, though I wouldn’t be quite so quick to pronounce racism, sexism and homophobia dead quite yet. But in an era in which the Mail on Sunday can make the fact that Peter Mandelson had not, in fact, broken up with his boyfriend page 3 news (as I read once with some disbelief), the fact that middle-class Madeline McCann can command front page news for months on end when working class Shannon Matthews’ kidnapping was actually overshadowed by coverage of possible sightings of McCann nine months after she disappeared seems to prove Jones’ point.
I think the forgotten point in Jones’ book is that stereotypes aren’t based in nothing. The only time I have ever heard someone used the word “paki” was from someone from inner Hartlepool, who stopped the entire room dead with his comment and seemed genuinely surprised that everyone didn’t share his sentiment. My last review was on a sex researcher who demonstrated that working class people do have sex younger, with more people, and with more pregnancies than middle class kids. I think that this omission is a shame, not because I think that we should be trying to protect our prejudices at all, far from it – I for one finished the book and hatched a deeply illconceived plan to move to the middle of an estate in Middlesborough on the basis of this talk by a South African who moved to a black township in order to confront his latent racism – but in order to ask the question: “Why does it matter?”
“We need to send a message that it’s not actually a good idea to become a single mum at 14. It is against the law to get pregnant at 14. How many kids gets prosecuted for underage sex? Virtually none. What are the consequences of breaking the law and having irresponsible underage sex? There aren’t any.” I will let that stand as it is and let you think about the practicalities of imprisoning pregnant fourteen year olds.
Chavs is filled with sentences that you just have to stop and say “What?” Jan Moir wrote on the death of Jade Goody: “A vulgar loudmouth, she initially appeared on the show as some Hogarthian lowlife. First we have this godforsaken wedding, then the christening of her children, then an ungainly, lickety split spring to death and the ultimate chav state funeral.”
Or, “The son of a railway signalman, John Prescott went on to fail his eleven plus and became a waiter in the Merchant Navy. … Tory MP Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill, used to shout drinks orders at him in the House of Commons whenever he rose to speak.”
Or, “‘Old fashioned Tories say there isn’t any class war’, declared Tory newspaper editor Peregrine Worsthorne, ‘New Tories make no bones about it: we are class warriors and we expect to be victorious.'”
Check out the book and its reviews on Amazon here:
At the beginning of the article: The first fact is just common knowledge as far as I am aware – the BBC references it is this article: Just what is a big salary?
The second fact re the average salary were from a survey of a range of occupations – most people who are higher tax earners think that the average income is somewhere around their own. It comes from a survey done by the TUC that you can find the details of here: Stuck in the middle with who?
There are some very pretty graphs regarding national income on Wikipedia: Income in the United Kingdom.
The remaining three facts are from the book itself.
Tax evasion and benefit fraud
The issue of tax evasion is a tricky one, as since the rise of UKUncut I have seen estimates from £25bn to £120bn a year, with most estimates around the £70bn mark. The PCS, a public services union, says £70bn, and has a very long examination of tax evasion with statistics, graphs and charts available here, for the geeks among you: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/11/tax-avoidance-justice-network
I actually calculated the issue of benefit fraud by finding a statistic on the entire benefits system and then dividing it by 100 to reflect the fact that fraud actually only accounts for 1% of benefit expenditure (a statistic which should be especially outrageous when you consider the amount of time the government spends banging on about scroungers bankrupting Britain when we spend just under that servicing our national debt a WEEK). That link is here.
If you allow for different years and the somewhat sketchy nature of national statistics, it all roughly adds up.