On the BBC website you can currently take a test to determine your social class. All you do is click here and answer a few questions.
And yes, I admit, I did have a go but I see no reason why you should know what the Beeb thinks of my social status. I will however admit that I think they are wrong. In the city in which I grew up I was in the first ever intake to what was called a Sixth Form College. You left school at 16 and spent the next two years studying for your A’ levels and, all being well, going on to university. It had a more liberal approach to life – no uniform, less discipline around attendance, co-ed as well! It was the bridge between school and university, helping the teenagers on the way to adulthood.
One of the new subjects was something called Liberal Studies. I have no idea what the syllabus was. I simply recall the group being asked one day “how many of you consider yourself as middle class?”. Only one person put his hand up. A tall, well-dressed young man, whose father was a bank manager. And that was enough. You only need to watch the old comedy show Dad’s Army to see that the pillar of the local community was the bank manager and perhaps his deputy. Which of the two had better breeding was clear – the deputy – but in the eyes of the manager he alone was the backbone of the town. Others poked gentle fun at him, some showed him exaggerated respect and others were downright rebellious.
Little did I imagine then that 12 years later I would be able to call myself a manager and, as I worked in a bank, I guess I was a bank manager, even if not in the traditional sense. My parents were well educated by the state and had thoroughly decent jobs. My father did an engineering apprenticeship and ended up teaching engineering. My mother worked for an accounting firm and did all the VAT and wages. Neither earned much and I remember the agony my father went through in 1968 trying to calculate whether we could afford to buy a new home as it cost the grand sum of £5,750. More than he had planned to pay and it put up the mortgage payments by an extra £11 per month. Yes, you read that correctly. Eleven pounds. I think I can safely say we were working class.
My father died relatively young. My mother lived another 14 years but I don’t think I ever saw her smile after he died. A broken heart slowly disintegrating until the last glimmer of resistance left her and she joined him. It was like watching a glaze crack spreading until ultimately the pieces were held together by nothing and the shards fell with her last breath. I stayed with her most of the last 18 days.
After that I changed jobs and started to climb the corporate ladder reasonably quickly. My starting salary in the 1970s was £4,063 per annum. By the time I finished it had grown somewhat. My job gave me access to an extremely broad spectrum of people over the years from clients to colleagues, from advisors to politicians, from the mega-rich to the poor.
My personal interests were wide. I worked hard and played hard. Sometimes to excess in both arenas. And so it seems that according to the Beeb’s survey I have moved on from being working class to……….. well, it does not matter what the Beeb thinks.
I am not sure I believe strongly in social mobility. You are what you are. Increased wealth gives you new opportunities but it certainly does not make you a better person. Widening the circle of your friends is not always a good idea. Just ask Jeremy Thorpe. Increased privilege is not to be taken lightly. It brings with it, again in my view, its own obligation to give back. The whole concept of an Elite Class seems anachronistic to me. I think my social outlook has changed significantly living in Hong Kong. The issue here is not class but a simple wealth chasm. To tag it as a gap seems to trivialise it. The increasing volume of assurances from the government that “something will be done” seems to me to be inversely proportional to the actual amount of change wrought. I don’t suppose the rich give a fig whether they are regarded as elite or not. They want power and influence. They have personal wealth. The poor want food, healthcare and a job. They know they are not the elite. Whatever lies in between is irrelevant when you are hungry.
But go on, have a go and see where you fall. Just don’t take it too seriously. Me, I think I am still working class, just retired working class.