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Dave Beans

The Death Of The Middle Classes

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2401122/Marry-Buy-house-Work-hard-save-Its-life-generations-took-granted-But-says-leading-historian-seismic-change-way--The-death-middle-classes.html

David Cameron was in Cornwall this week, enjoying his fourth holiday of the year. Photographed in a beachside cafe, the Prime Minister and his wife looked the very picture of a typical middle-class couple, enjoying a very English seaside holiday. The reality, of course, is rather different.

Mr Cameron may famously have claimed that he and his wife are members of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’, but given that the Prime Minister, the son of a millionaire stockbroker, traces his descent from William IV, while his wife is the daughter of a landed baronet, they inhabit a very different world from most middle-class families.

Behind Mr Cameron’s Cornish photo opportunity there was, in fact, a dark irony. The picture was meant to send a clear message to ordinary voters: ‘We are just like you.’ But for millions of people, the middle-class idyll represented by that picture is becoming a distant mirage. Today, many people are starting to realise they will probably never enjoy the comforts their parents took for granted.

For middle-class Britain is not just being squeezed. Thanks to rising food prices, non-existent savings rates, disappearing pensions, surging energy costs, the disappearance of jobs and the grim decline of social mobility, there is a good case that it is beginning to vanish entirely.

People have, of course, been writing obituaries for the British middle classes for years. There was a notable example in this week’s Spectator, which warned that ‘the lifestyle that the average earner had half a century ago — a reasonably sized house, dependable healthcare, a decent education for the children and a reliable pension — is becoming the preserve of the rich’.

That diagnosis will, I suspect, have many readers nodding in recognition. Ever since the start of the financial crisis, ordinary families have been forced to pull in their belts ever tighter, forfeiting many of the pleasures that once made up the texture of their daily lives. Government statistics show that since the crash, the average earner has seen his income drop by 10 per cent in real terms.

Not until 2020 will many people have returned to the level of income and comfort they enjoyed before the financial crisis began. No wonder, then, that families’ real buying power has fallen back to the levels of the mid-Nineties, while household spending has declined for five years in a row — the biggest blow to our living standards since figures were first collected in the Fifties.

In the meantime, energy prices have soared, with bills expected to rise by at least 10 per cent this winter. Petrol prices, too, are set to rise by at least 5p a litre in the next few weeks, thanks to the conflict in the Middle East. And only last month, Tesco’s chief executive, Philip Clarke, told shoppers that thanks to rising demand from China and India, the days of cheap food prices are over. ‘There was a time when we could go to South Africa to buy fruit and be the only retailer there,’ he said. ‘Not any more.’

For Britain’s hard-pressed middle and working classes, all this constitutes the financial equivalent of a cardiac arrest. And you merely have to look outside your front door to see the consequences. Ever since the recession began, discount superstores such as Aldi and Lidl — based on the principle of piling them high and selling them cheap — have become increasingly fashionable with middle-class shoppers. Four years ago, even Waitrose, that temple to middle-class consumerism, introduced an Essentials range in a desperate attempt to retain the loyalty of hard-pressed shoppers.

Thanks partly to green taxes and soaring fuel costs, millions of families have had to give up on their dreams of a sun-kissed Mediterranean holiday. One recent survey found that two out of three British families were planning to stay here for their summer holidays, while five million people are expected to take a British holiday this Bank Holiday weekend. Ten, even 20 years ago, all this would have seemed extraordinary. Before the crash, we were told middle-class values had become universal. When New Labour came to power in 1997, in the midst of one of the biggest booms in modern economic history, their deputy leader John Prescott proclaimed: ‘We’re all middle class now.’

For millions of ordinary Britons, however, many of the things that were once seen as unmistakable badges of middle-class status, from foreign holidays and decent schools to a reliable pension, a job for life and a home of your own, have begun to slip out of their reach. Perhaps I will be forgiven a personal anecdote. I grew up in a middle-class household and, through a combination of parental support and sheer good luck, won a scholarship to a private school in the Midlands.

In my day, the fees — then £6,000 a year — seemed expensive enough. But how times have changed! If I wanted to send my son to the same school today, I would be committing myself to a whopping £150,000 over five years. It’s an astronomical sum to be forking out on top of taxes, a mortgage, food bills and energy costs. Little wonder, then, that while my contemporaries were the sons and daughters of provincial doctors, solicitors and accountants, many of my old school’s current pupils come from rich households in Germany and the Far East, their parents having decided to give them the polish of a traditional British education.

In its way this tells a wider story. Here, as in so many other areas, globalisation has been hard on the British middle classes, who find themselves priced out of the institutions to which so many once aspired. Housing presents a similar picture. When my parents came of age in the late Sixties, the general expectation was that young middle-class couples would buy their own home as soon as they got married, a place on the property ladder being synonymous with a stake in society. This was not, of course, merely a middle-class dream. As Margaret Thatcher tirelessly told interviewers after becoming Tory leader in 1975, supposedly middle-class ambitions were often shared by millions of working-class people, too. When she came to power in 1979, she appealed overwhelmingly to young married couples and skilled workers — known in the sociological jargon as the C2s — who were keen to buy their own council houses.

‘To most people, ownership means, first and foremost, a home of their own,’ declared her election manifesto. Those words ring hollow today. Thanks to the overwhelming concentration of jobs and services in the South-East, and the influx of the super-rich and thousands of workers from abroad, thousands of young people in London and the Home Counties find it impossible to get on the property ladder. Only a few months ago, a report found that by the end of the decade, young couples will need a £110,000 deposit to buy a home in the capital, while first-time buyers elsewhere will need to stump up £60,000. Finding the money, however, is becoming harder and harder.

Middle-class men and women once expected to have a job for life. Half a century ago, it was perfectly normal to join a firm after leaving school or college and to stay there until the award of the inevitable carriage clock at the age of 65. Today, for middle and working-class workers alike, the reality is very different. ‘On both sides of the Atlantic, automation and outsourcing have destroyed administrative and, particularly, blue-collar industrial jobs,’ the Economist magazine recently reported.

For a chilling glimpse of Britain’s possible future, look at the city of Detroit. Once, it was the capital of the world’s car industry, with a happy and settled population and all the trappings of middle-class prosperity, including an opera house, several theatres and a symphony orchestra. Today, with much of the American car industry in ruins, it is a bankrupt, deserted, drug-addled war zone. That could be the prospect for many industrial British cities, too, as jobs disappear abroad and the middle classes flee to the countryside. Unless you are one of the tiny minority of the very rich — like most of the Cabinet, two-thirds of whom are millionaires — the future looks bleak.

Once a nation of savers, we have lost the habit. Almost 15 million Britons make no effort to save at all, while eight million have saved precisely nothing for their old age. But you can understand why so few of us are bothering to put money by. Interest rates are virtually non-existent, which means that savings are steadily being eaten away by inflation.

Meanwhile, annuity returns are often pitiful. Indeed, it emerged last week that some providers, calculating that pensioners are reluctant to shop around, are deliberately paying 30 per cent below the rest of the market — a shameful indictment of Britain’s big insurers. No wonder, then, that many people prefer to borrow and spend, hoping blindly that tomorrow will take care of itself. But the reality for Britain’s middle classes is that tomorrow could be very tough indeed.

The deeper question, though, is whether, in a generation’s time we will have a traditional middle class at all. Class is notoriously difficult to quantify. But most people would surely agree that throughout our history, Britain’s middle classes have been defined largely by their values: hard work, thrift, sobriety, self-discipline and self-conscious respectability. Rooted in the Protestant work ethic, these values inspired statesmen from Oliver Cromwell to William Gladstone and social reformers from William Wilberforce to Thomas Barnado.

They represented the very best in Britain’s character: a combination of drive, dedication, courage and compassion. But do they still have the same resonance today? Alas, the answer is surely no. Thrift and sobriety could hardly be less fashionable, while moral self-discipline has given way to instant self-gratification. And with the ladders of social mobility torn down, young people can hardly be blamed for leaving school with little hope they can live as well as their parents, let alone outdo them.

In a few decades’ time, therefore, it is perfectly plausible that the old-fashioned professional middle class will have virtually ceased to exist. And as globalisation continues to take effect, the gap between rich and poor is likely to widen, leaving Britain looking increasingly like Brazil — a society divided into an impoverished, alienated minority and an immensely rich ruling elite. All this reminds me of something a Victorian Londoner wrote more than 150 years ago.

One day, predicted Karl Marx, ‘the lower strata of the middle class — the small tradespeople, shopkeepers and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants’, would begin to sink down the social ladder, crushed by the cruel economic logic of modern life. Society, he thought, would inexorably be divided into haves and have-nots, and tension would turn inevitably to violent revolution. Marx gloried in his own prediction. As the founding father of Communism, he looked forward to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, when the middle classes would be extinguished and capitalism would be torn down.

For years it sounded like the stuff of fantasy. But as outlandish as Marx’s ideas seem today, he might have been right about one thing: the disappearance of the middle-class dream for the many millions who once took it for granted.

It could hardly be a more depressing thought. Now there’s something for Mr Cameron to ponder as he basks in the Cornish sunshine.

Edited by Dave Beans

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In medieval times landless peasants scratched a living by renting a piece of land from the local landlord, expending their life's energy to produce wealth, handing over a good part of that wealth to the unproductive rentier class.

Nowadays we rent our money supply from commercial banks, collectively paying interest estimated at £192m per day to the money rentiers.

We continuously pay a fortune for the privilege of using the bankers' expensive money numbers to run our productive economy when all the time, at negligible cost, we could issue our own, debt-free and persistently circulating money supply as a public utility.

It beggars belief that the whole population is not clamouring for change.

http://www.positivemoney.org/

Edited by The Spaniard

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Great article...although praising The Daily Mail doesn't come easily!

My sentiments exactly. It's a fantastic article. It touches on so many themes that people on hpc have been saying for years. Once again we see that slowly the people of the hpc generation are taking up the levers of power and are venting their fury to a wider and wider audience.

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Here, as in so many other areas, globalisation has been hard on the British middle classes

Yet those same middle classes totally bought into the Globalist Agenda of deregulation and deindustrialisation- having been sold the idea that the future belonged to those-like themselves- who worked in the 'knowledge economy'- everyone else's job being presumably expendable.

It always puzzled me why the 'symbolic analysts' did not grasp the fact that their data based jobs were far easier to outsource than those of the working class- no expensive plant and machinery required- just an internet connection away are all the 'knowledge workers' you need- in places like India.

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From my time at HPC, death of middle class is synonymous with the death of yield.

Income, ie labour, is no longer capable of purchasing the quantity of assets required to generate a livable return due to low yields hence declining levels of middle classes until we're all poor except the King.

I may become middle class because my dirt poor father in law scrimped and saved to buy land 30+ years ago not because of my 9th decile income whilst young in the here and now.

Edited by 7 Year Itch

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Sad that the comments are full of Baby Boomers decrying the unwillingness of young people to forego holidays and iPhones in order to get their foot on the property ladder. Some people will never understand what house prices over 10x local wages actually means.

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In medieval times landless peasants scratched a living by renting a piece of land from the local landlord, expending their life's energy to produce wealth, handing over a good part of that wealth to the unproductive rentier class.

Nowadays we rent our money supply from commercial banks, collectively paying interest estimated at £192m per day to the money rentiers.

We continuously pay a fortune for the privilege of using the bankers' expensive money numbers to run our productive economy when all the time, at negligible cost, we could issue our own, debt-free and persistently circulating money supply as a public utility.

It beggars belief that the whole population is not clamouring for change.

http://www.positivemoney.org/

There was common land where anyone could graze their animals, their livelihood......until the influential with power coveted it for themselves, confiscated the land and got the workers to work for them for tokens they gave to them to spend with them on the land they stole from them....it is still going on now in the world today. ;)

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About the author:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Sandbrook

Born October 1974, so absolutely on the cusp of the 1975 cutoff between the priced-in and priced-out generations.

You can also see from the article that he now realizes that his children will grow up poor, regardless of their 'middle-class background', with limited real assets, no house, no stable employment and will have to endure a constant decline in public services as the state tries to service an ever growing debt along with the pension catastrophe that is on its way in the next 5-10 years.

He surely realizes that the government will move its attention towards the NHS soon and then schools which have until now been ring fenced. What happens when his children fall ill in 5 years time but the nearest hospital is 40 miles away, severely under staffed and the nurses are on strike? Or when his grandchildren can't go to school because the teachers are on strike due to low pay?

I think many people in the UK hitting their late 40s are realizing that the children in their 20s who are currently living at home with them will be stuck in low pay jobs for the rest of their lives. No way out. And all they can think to do is vote UKIP at the next election and move their limited savings from one bank account to another chasing below inflation interest rates.

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There was common land where anyone could graze their animals, their livelihood......until the influential with power coveted it for themselves, confiscated the land and got the workers to work for them for tokens they gave to them to spend with them on the land they stole from them....it is still going on now in the world today. ;)

After WW2 approximately 50% of the money supply was publicly issued, debt-free physical cash, persistently circulating as a common utility.

Gradually since then, along with the rise of electronic technology, our money supply has been privatised, just as the common land was a few centuries earlier (as you point out.)

Almost all of the money now in circulation has been borrowed into existence at interest.

Effectively, we now collectively rent our money supply from the commercial banks.

There is no good moral, logical or functional reason why this should be the case.

With hardly anyone being aware, we have been duped incrementally into rent-a-currency debt slavery.

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Yet those same middle classes totally bought into the Globalist Agenda of deregulation and deindustrialisation- having been sold the idea that the future belonged to those-like themselves- who worked in the 'knowledge economy'- everyone else's job being presumably expendable.

It always puzzled me why the 'symbolic analysts' did not grasp the fact that their data based jobs were far easier to outsource than those of the working class- no expensive plant and machinery required- just an internet connection away are all the 'knowledge workers' you need- in places like India.

A vivid memory is as a child back in 1983 when they were shutting industry after industry in the north east,whole towns unemployed my granddad saying just this.

He said don't the barmy buggers know once they have stolen the working class jobs they will steal the middle class ones next including their houses and assets.Once a predator kills and eats all the easy prey it moves onto a new food source.

You are 100% right that the so called middle classes turned a blind eye to the destruction of working class jobs,wages and conditions because they thought they wouldn't be touched and the destruction even made their middle class life more assured.

Its ironic to think but it was really the working class unions etc fighting for a half decent wage etc that probably kept the middle class out of the gun sights.

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Great article but love the way the Mail still manages to make it one of its own with some of the captions and photos.

The priced out cut off age seems to be something of a moving target. I can remember the forum talking about under 35 year olds being priced out around five or six years ago. I'm not sure it's particularly useful to create a strict divide. I have previously middle class friends in their late forties for whom house buying has been out of reach all of their life because of spells of unemployment, long term relationship breaking down at the wrong time, illness etc. Equally, I have friends in their twenties who are sitting pretty because of inheritances/gifts from mum and dad/high paying jobs.

I think we can say that it's taking progressively longer to be in a position to buy - and ideally, you'd either be born into a wealthy family and/or be extremely organised and lucky in managing your money/career.

The death of the middle classes has been a long slow process from my observation. I don't know many middle class couples in their late 40s with grown up kids. Most of their kids are in their early teens at best - because they delayed having them due to both wanting careers/incomes to match the lifestyles of their parents.

The contemporaries (I'm 41) who have done best housing wealth wise are those that skipped Uni, stayed in their home town and learned a trade or even did shop assistant work. Many of them have paid their small mortgage off and seen the house double if not triple in price.

I also don't buy his middle class values stuff at all. You only have to read Orwell to realise they've always loaded up with debt to avoid cutting their cloth according to their means and to match what their strong sense of entitlement demands and faced a steady decline in living standards since at least the victorian era (in the 1930s they were complaining about the loss of servants).

Being from scumbag class myself, it's occasionally amusing to hear some of my middle class friends sigh over private school costs and anguishing over sending their children to the local state school - and which one to pick.

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----- " -------

Being from scumbag class myself, it's occasionally amusing to hear some of my middle class friends sigh over private school costs and anguishing over sending their children to the local state school - and which one to pick.

There's many a true word spoken in jest.....join the plebs. ;)

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A good article. Nevertheless it has of course prompted the usual suspects to come marching in to air their usual prejudices.

The middle classes have been dying since the end of WW1 under a regime of a thousand cuts, sadly the working classes have always been the first to celebrate this without realising that most of their rights and comforts that lifted them out of squalor was thanks to the middle-class. That is precisely why they had to go!

A world without the middle-class is going to be a bleak one.

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And as globalisation continues to take effect, the gap between rich and poor is likely to widen, leaving Britain looking increasingly like Brazil — a society divided into an impoverished, alienated minority and an immensely rich ruling elite.

Not really a "minority" when it is 99% of the people with sweet FA.

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A good article. Nevertheless it has of course prompted the usual suspects to come marching in to air their usual prejudices.

The middle classes have been dying since the end of WW1 under a regime of a thousand cuts, sadly the working classes have always been the first to celebrate this without realising that most of their rights and comforts that lifted them out of squalor was thanks to the middle-class. That is precisely why they had to go!

A world without the middle-class is going to be a bleak one.

Agreed.They have traditionally been the target of those who seek to govern by coercion. Having a vision for the betterment of the collective is often a good thing. But it's fun to mock their sense of entitlement in certain areas and other foibles occasionally though. I'm just not sure if a private education, several holidays aboard a year and a second home in the country to complement the one in Islington are human rights worth fighting for.

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Sad that the comments are full of Baby Boomers decrying the unwillingness of young people to forego holidays and iPhones in order to get their foot on the property ladder. Some people will never understand what house prices over 10x local wages actually means.

+1

It means that they can't all sell their houses at those prices ;)

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I'm just not sure if a private education, several holidays aboard a year and a second home in the country to complement the one in Islington are human rights worth fighting for.

Not a right but an incentive.

Ask any middle-aged/old Russian what its like to live in a society where most of the incentives are removed, except through corruption.

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1377428167[/url]' post='909381520']

Interesting topic. I shall talk about it at my dinner party later tonight, over Nigella's latest dessert. It's fantastic; she uses pecans instead of hazelnuts.

Don't you mean divine.

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I also don't buy his middle class values stuff at all. You only have to read Orwell to realise they've always loaded up with debt to avoid cutting their cloth according to their means and to match what their strong sense of entitlement demands and faced a steady decline in living standards since at least the victorian era (in the 1930s they were complaining about the loss of servants).

Good point. The 'hard up middle class' sob story is a perennial source of fascination for, well, the hard up middle class.

They've always been with us; it just became a little easier to get out of that class for a few decades in the 20th century. Take Mr Pooter in 'The Diary of A Nobody' who practically has an or*gasm when he gets given the freehold of his suburban villa - the idea that a city bank clerk could OWN his own home was almost incredible in the 1890s. For about sixty years, between the 1930s and the 1990s, it was just about possible with thrift and hard work, but now we've gone back to the middle class poverty trap.

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