This report underlines the fact that many people live in a fantasy world (one that is largely unquestioned by the media) where people earning £40,000 are ‘average earners’, class is dead and London is a place of wealth and aspiration. As I’ve argued before, I sincerely believe that teaching children (and indeed the wider population) about median incomes, poverty levels, homelessness and such would be a huge step towards transforming this country. From Parliament down we are fed a distorted, disconnected view of society so that people in the top 25% of earners are embarrassed over how ‘little’ they earn and the poor are blamed for their own ‘condition’.
The convenient political myth says class is dead. Downton Abbey deference is no more, and look how differences among the young meld into universal estuary and mockney. Classlessness may be modern and hip – yet birth determines destiny more certainly than 50 years ago.
Polly Toynbee has written variations on this article several times over the past few years – but it can’t be repeated enough. In conversation after conversation I have been stunned by how ingrained the idea that we live in a ‘classless’ society is amongst many of my peers. The repeated mantra is that if you just work hard enough, you’ll make it. People resort to anecdotes about individuals who had secretary mothers and factory-working fathers and who now own their own house. Amazingly, many don’t seem to associate debt with class whatsoever, with more than one person telling me that the ‘working-class’ was meaningless when people could buy things using credit cards etc.
If social class was meaningfully taught in our schools, that would go a huge way to beginning to transform our country. As it is, inequality continues to rise and those at the top further cement their stranglehold – and everyone acquiesces. No – they cheerlead.
How much, we asked our group, would it take to put someone in the top 10% of earners? They put the figure at £162,000. In fact, in 2007 it was around £39,825, the point at which the top tax band began. Our group found it hard to believe that nine-tenths of the UK’s 32m taxpayers earned less than that. As for the poverty threshold, our lawyers and bankers fixed it at £22,000. But that sum was just under median earnings, which meant they regarded ordinary wages as poverty pay.
Mistakes such as these should disqualify the wealthy from pontificating about taxation or redistribution. And yet City views carry great weight with ministers and politicians of all parties.