Opinion, Politics

Opinion: When do you stop being working class?

0 1461

By Shawna Healey


Labour MP Jess Phillips has recently appeared in the news in relation to debates around her class status, with Phillips claiming that she’s (still) working class, whilst others, such as Abi Wilkinson, vocally disagree.

Is Jess Phillips still working class because she has tattoos and grew up working class – or even, as was lovingly exposed during an interview with The Times, because her brother was a heroin addict?

From 1st April, MPs basic pay will increase 2.7%, or £2,089, to an annual salary of an incredible £79,568. This along, with paid expenses that cover members of staff, living costs in London and travel between their constituency and the capital, along with additional salaries for those holding other roles, such as being Speaker of the House, means that MPs earn a cushy wage, well over the national average of around £27,000.

So, does earning nearly £80,000 a year before tax mean that Jess Phillips can continue to classify herself as working class, when the average income for working class people is roughly £23,000?

Firstly, we would have to define what it means to be “working class”, which is a hugely contested idea within the field of sociology. One source defines the working class as:

“Those individuals engaged in manual work, often having low levels of educational achievement. The classic, traditional working class jobs include heavy labouring and factory based work.”

However, these types of jobs are steadily declining, with public administration, education and healthcare forming the largest employment sectors in the UK.

In 2015, the British Social Attitudes survey found that the majority of British people, 60%, identified as ‘working class’, even if they held ‘stereotypically middle class jobs’, which would be the case for Jess Phillips.

So, what does it mean to be working class, or middle class, in today’s world? Does working class mean that you’re not university educated, or that you don’t go to Starbucks? The Mirror created a quiz that allows participants to find out by answering questions such as “What is your mean income?” and “Do you like football or golf?”

Truthfully, however, class is far too complex to be diagnosed through these questions. In Jess Phillips’ case, she was raised in a working class household, but she now quite literally belongs to the ruling class.

It is obvious that she is distinguishable from the Oxbridge, Bullingdon Club group of elite, but to argue that she is working class because of “her accent” or “her tattoos” overlooks the fact that she earns roughly four times the average amount that the working class do in Britain, and that she is a professional with the “aspirational” white picket fence.

Knowing where the line is wt which point you stop becoming “working class” and transition into becoming “middle class”, however, is confusing and complex, and is a subject that sociologists will doubtlessly continue to to debate for many years to come.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 21, and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More News Stories:

  • Opinion: “Our real legacy at university is the friends we make along the way”

    We all prioritise different things in life: our relationships, academic achievement, and financial success. While these can be great catalysts for short and long-term goals, making us resilient,  fixating on these goals can become overwhelming, even detrimental. Focusing on what we feel we have to achieve can make it easy to lose sight of the…

  • Reading and Leeds Festival 2024: The best bands to see this year

    Featured image: Georgina Hurdsfield Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of choice on offer at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’ve trawled the lineups to bring you a cluster of acts to watch on the August bank holiday weekend. From jungle to riotous punk, there’s a bounty of brilliant bands…

  • Film Review: The Idea of You – A sappy feel-good rom-com

    Featured image: PA Media In this sappy, heart-warming rom-com, two lovers meet at Coachella as Solène (Anne Hathaway) takes her daughter to a meet and greet at the Californian music festival. Known for her iconic roles in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Princess Diaries (2001), Hathaway plays the role of a 40-year-old divorcee…

  • Travel: Tips for multi-country trips abroad while keeping your bank account happy

    Featured image: Georgia Pearson The summer break from university is approaching and conversations about travel plans can be heard across campus. But with the cost of living at a high, students and young people are looking for cheaper ways to travel this summer. Travelling to multiple countries during one trip can be a budget-friendly way…