What class are you?

Odds-on a little voice in your head answered ‘middle class’. But here’s a question for you:

If you no longer had an income from salary or wages, how long would it be before you needed credit or some form of help to cover your bills?

a) One month or less

b) Up to three months

c) Up to six months

d) Up to a year

e) 1 – 5 years

f) More than 5 years

g) What’s a salary? I’m independently wealthy.

If you answered (g) consider yourself lucky and try to be a good person. If you answered (a) – (d), as most of us would, congratulations and welcome to the working class!

Our image of the working class is outdated. We think Albert Finney in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. In truth, you are working class if you rely on being able to exchange your labour for wages or salary in order to meet the cost of living. No matter how educated you are, how much Boden you buy, no matter how des-res your home is, if you need your monthly pay cheque to meet your cost of living, you are working class.

The great myth sustaining modern politics is that of the squeezed middle. All those good, middle class people who are suffering that governments everywhere wish they could help. The innocent bystanders of the global financial crisis. The strivers of the world, who go to work everyday and pay their taxes and try to get ahead. You.

What, or who, is stopping the government giving you all the help you so righteously deserve?  Skivers. Lazy, no good wastrels sitting around all day, living it up in the lap of luxury at taxpayers’ expense. Watching their plasma TVs and smoking and drinking. And breeding so they can get more benefits. Scum.

Also You.

In 1997 John Prescott told us ‘we’re all middle class now’ and we believe it, but it’s not true. The middle class is the gap between people who have to work in exchange for a wage in order to meet the cost of living, and those who are so rich that they don’t. 50% of Britons have zero assets – they don’t even own their own home, so the working class is most of us. Yet most of us don’t think that way. A recent poll in the US found that 73% of people self-identify as middle-class.

The gap between your being a Striver and a Skiver is exactly how long you can survive without your wage if you lose your job or find yourself unable to work.

Think about how big that gap is for you.

Of course, should the worst happen, you’ll do your best to stretch that gap as far as possible. Selling stuff, renegotiating payments on things, cutting back on luxuries. But if no job is there, what next?

This Mum starves herself a few days a week. She lost her job and can’t get another one. Her husband is still working but they can’t meet their bills.

Foodbanks, which hand out food to the poor, are doing GREAT, right now. People are walking miles to get to them when they can’t afford the bus fare

Others are committing suicide, like this Dad who could not face his family becoming homeless when his Housing Benefit was cut. Housing benefit doesn’t even go to the poor, it goes to landlords.

Pitting the Strivers against the Skivers pits the working class against itself.  The very poor versus the not-quite-as-poor (yet).  And this grand narrative is allowing the government to strip away the social safety net that should be there to support YOUR family if you lose your job or get sick.

It also casts us all as nothing more than cogs in a machine for generating profit. The sub-text of the grand narrative is that if you are of no use to the market, you are of no use. No job for you anymore? Then we don’t care what happens to you and your family. Figure it out yourself.

So next time you read about benefit scroungers, and how important it is for the government to take away benefits so they have an incentive to work, don’t get sucked in. People on benefits are, for the most part, people just like you and me. People who want to work for a living but for one reasons or another cannot. Don’t let politicians (and, yes, I include Labour in that statement) get away with demonising working people. You could be next.