We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Social Classes in Britain Essay Sample

The whole doc is available only for registered users OPEN DOC
  • Pages:
  • Word count: 2446
  • Category: marxism

A limited time offer!

Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

Social Classes in Britain Essay Sample

In this essay on social classes in Britain I will mostly concentrate on structure of various classes in Britain and relations between them. I will also describe some changes and movements which this classes went through over the years. Furthermore, I will put emphasis on today’s important issue in Britain, the problem of class struggle i.e. disparity between the rich and the poor. Although there are various definitions of social class, we may say that social class is connected with factors such as wealth, level of education and occupation. To be more precise in defining it, a social class is “a status hierarchy in which individuals and groups are classified on the basis of esteem and prestige acquired mainly through economic success and accumulation of wealth.

Social class may also refer to any particular level in such a hierarchy.”[1] Social classes represent an important part in people’s lives because they are essential to proper understanding of British history and because class is a major British preoccupation, especially in political life. Therefore, it concerned British Prime Minister John Major twenty years ago in such a way that he tried to achieve his aim to bring about “classless society”. He didn’t accomplish that and Britain continued to be class-bound nation.[2] Class is very much present in Britain. Besides him, according to Margater Thatcher: “Class,” she insisted, “is a Communist concept. It groups people as bundles, and sets them against one another.”[3] We may conclude that to her, class has been depravity of human behaviour.

Today there are six social classes in Britain established in the 1950s and used ever since.[4] Following classification based on the occupation of the head of the household according to National Readership Survey[5] is for 2008. The upper middle class (category A – high managerial, administrative or professional, 4%) in Britain is very small and consists mostly of peerage, gentry and hereditary landowners. This class is more defined by family background than by job or income because these people were born into families that possessed higher incomes. In other words, it represents the wealthiest class with people having inherited money and position. The middle class (category B – intermediate managerial, administrative or professional, 23%) in Britain consists of people who are educated in either private or state schools. Typical jobs include lawyers, doctors, architects, teachers, managers, as well as civil servants and other skilled jobs. The lower middle class (category C1 – supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional, 29%) in Britain consists of people in white-collar jobs (do not involve manual labor) living in less prosperous suburbs.

For example, they are employed as retail salesmen, railway guards, airline stewardesses, travel agents, low level civil servants etc. Members of this class often did not have an university education until 1970s expansion in higher education. The skilled working class (category C2 – skilled manual workers, 21%) consists of people who work in skilled blue-collar jobs (often involve manual labor), chiefly in the construction and manufacturing industry or as self employed contractors. The semi-skilled and unskilled working class (category D – semi and unskilled manual workers, 15%) in Britain consists of people who work in blue-collar jobs with low incomes. What is typical for this class is that people do not have opportunity to take part in higher education. Many would go on to work semi-skilled and unskilled jobs on the assembly lines and machine shops of Britain’s major car factories, steel mills, foundries and textile mills in the highly industrialised cities. Category E (state pensioners, casual or lowest grade workers, unemployed with state benefits only, 8%), known as the “underclass” consists of the long-term unemployed, occasional part-time, economic immigrants, elderly pensioners and dependent on state benefits. Many would be in public housing or council estates.[6]

While the fact that people mostly mix socially with other people from the same class and surroundings gives the wrong impression of invariable situation, there has always been major movement between classes. This movement is a consequence of the fact that people move from one social class to another during working lives.[7] Some even try to get into another, more affluent class, through marriage or in some other way. “Marriage outside one’s class is much more common than it used to be. Consequently, the ‘extended’ family, including cousins, will probably include people who in their social life belong to quite different social classes.”[8] For example, during the Victorian era, when social class became a national obsession, industrialists in the House of Commons tried to attain the status of House of Lords landowners through culture, marriage and title.[9] After the Vicorian era, things started to change. “The working class is rapidly declining. In 1911 three out every four employed or self-employed people were manual workers. By 1950 that proportion had fallen to two out of three, but since then has fallen to 40 per cent or so.”[10] Changes also occurred after the Second World War.

“Britain’s class structure loosened after the Second World War. The landed aristocracy became relatively poorer, the number of people in manual work decreased and the 1944 Education Act opened universities to more children whose parents could not afford private education”.[11] “From a sociological point of view the class system in Britain changed substantially during the ‘Thatcher Era’. Home ownership (on mortgage) was extended throughout the middle classes and below. With the loss of the majority of traditional working class industrial jobs from the market, a new ‘underclass’, below working class emerged. The ‘underclass’, defined as unemployed relying on state benefits, is the new bottom of the British class system.”[12] “Since the 1950s there has been a massive growth of the middle class. But there has also been the emergence of a sizeable ‘underclass’, as category E is commonly known.”[13]

As opposite, in the 1990s, according to Andrew Adonis and Stephen Pollard there have been discovered a new upper middle class described as ‘the super class’, which consisted of elite professionals and managers, which held high salaries and share ownership.[14] Because of such situation, caused by the fact that the middle class is mobile and fluid, there has been significant change in percentages of households since 1992. As the middle class is expanding, percentages of categories A, B and C1 have increased, and percentages of categories C2, D and E have decreased. “The middle class, in particular, has great fluidity and mobility. … Over half of today’s middle class started life in the working class.”[15] But difficulties arise when “despite this fluidity, the elite of society, itself a segment of the professional class, takes great care to protect itself. This includes the ‘gentry’ class made up mainly of landowners, and others who move in the most exclusive English social circles.”[16] Therefore, social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as ‘the elites’ within their own societies. I think the problem consists of that social classes with greater power attempt to secure themselves by segregate in ‘closed circle’ above the lower classes in the hierarchy but at the expense of the society overall.

In that way, the class distinction between the powerful and the powerless is more emphasized. Thus we come to a very important issue of the class conflict or the class struggle which is manifested in wealth gap between the rich and the poor in Britain. “The class struggle takes various forms. The majority of class struggles today are over ‘economic issues’, including an increasing share of national income.”[17] “The classical interpretation of class struggle today is between the capitalist (or owning) class and the proletariat (or working) class.”[18] One of the most powerful sociological explanations of social conflict is that of Karl Marx, who posited a class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie intrinsic to capitalist, industrial society. “Here is Karl Marx: ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles'”.[19] For Marx, class was the essence of history and of human behavior and for Thatcher, as stated above, class has been the depravity of both. “Class may not be the essence of history in the way that the Marxists and welfare state liberals once believed. But neither is it the perversion of history that Margaret Thatcher claims.

Taking a long and broad view, changes in popular perceptions of British society have been at least as important as changes in British society itself, and it is in the evolving relationship between these social perceptions and social structures that the history of class is properly to be found and to be studied.”[20] Throughout the last three centuries of Britain’s history, there has been much less evidence of class consciousness and class conflict than Marx mistakenly asserted. Furthermore, it is an irony that, long before John Major made the phrase fashionable during the 1990s, Marx had predicted that a ‘classless society’ would one day come into being.[21] “Finally, the division between classes will widen and the condition of the exploited worker will deteriorate so badly that social structure collapses: the class struggle is transformed into a proletarian revolution. The workers’ triumph will eliminate the basis of class division in property through public ownership of the means of production.

With the basis of classes thus wiped away, a classless society will ensue (by definition), and since political power to protect the bourgeoisie against the workers is unnecessary, political authority and the state will wither away.”[22] But despite everything said, the class system in British society is alive and well and, therefore, the problem of class conflict is still present. Unfortunately, the gap between the rich and the poor in Britain has almost reached a record level. “It is also true that the ‘top’ 1 per cent has enormous influence and control. … The top 1 per cent of wealth holders probably own about one-quarter of the nation’s wealth, a large drop from the two-thirds they controlled in 1914 but a larger proportion than one might expect in a modern democracy. “[23] It is quite worrying information that such disproportion and inequality exist in Britain, but unfortunately the very rich just go on getting richer. “The latest survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirmed again what we already know about the growing gap between rich and poor. It says that it is now greater than it has been for the last 40 years. There has been an increase in the number they define as ‘breadline poor’ to around a quarter of all households.”[24] “By contrast the wealth of the richest in society has vastly increased.

This year’s Sunday Times ‘rich list’ shows that the increase in wealth of the top 1,000 people in Britain has been 20% in one year to around £360 billion. You have to have £70 million just to get on the bottom rung of that list.”[25] That kind of informations certainly tell us that the gap is too wide and that something must be done to narrow it down. I think some of the best ways to do it are: the demand for increased taxes on the super rich, equal opportunities (e.g. abolishment of the public school sector), more equal redistribution of the wealth, the multinational companies owned by the rich need to become publicly owned etc. But this would not end the vast inequalities in British society, nor solve problems such as class conflict because unfortunately, inequality is built into the system. Just as Dennis Gilbert asserted: “Class is bound to exist in any complex society as not all occupations are equal and that households do form pattern of interaction that give rise to social classes.”[26]

To conclude, manifestly social classes affects everyone and they are definitely relevant, as has been proven through history of Britain. When the upper class give up from isolating itself from other classes and when rich people quit everyday ‘rat race’ to improve or maintain their position in social life, maybe then will Britain create beginnings of conditions for a genuinely classless society. Although, according to percentages from NRS, there have been some improvement, there is still present very wide gap between the rich and the poor and probably will have existed for some time. Hence Britain must put all its effort into narrowing the wealth gap and suppressing class struggle because “classes do not exist because there is a conflict; the conflict exists because there are classes and it is easy for the strong to exploit the weak. The class supremacy is in economic discrimination and not in the color of your skin or your gender. To take the side of the poor or the rich is to choose against the other, the oppressed against the oppressors, one class against the other.”[27]


1.) Business Dictionary.Social Class: Definition.2010.24 June 2011. 2.) David Cannadine. The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.2010.24 June2011.

3.) Social grade.A Classification Tool.2009.Ipsos MediaCT.24 June 2011.
4.) McDowall, D. (2000.), Britain in close-up, London: Longman 5.) James Petras.Capitalism and Class Struggle.25 April 2011.24 June 2011.

6.) The Latter Rain Page.Class Struggle.2009.25 June 2011.

7.) R.J. Rimmel.Marxism, Class Conflict and the Conflict Helix.2010.26 June 2011.

8.) Socialist Party.Social Class in Britain Today. 30 August 2007.26 June 2011. < http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/3075>

9.) Wikipedia:The Free Encyclopedia.Social Structure of the United Kingdom.18 June 2011. 26 June 2011.

10.) Wikipedia:The Free Encyclopedia.Social Class: United Kingdom.20 June 2011. 26 June 2011.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_class#United_Kingdom>

11.) Andy McSmith.The Big Question: Has the Divide Between Britain’s Social Classes Really Narrowed?.4 November 2008.The Independent.26 June 2011.

[1] Business Dictionary.Social Class: Definition.2010
[2] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[3] Cannadine D. The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.2010
[4] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[5] Social grade.A Classification Tool.2009
[6] Social structure of the United Kingdom.18 June 2011
[7] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[8] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[9] Social Class: United Kingdom. 20 June 2011
[10] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[11] McSmith A. The big question: Has the divide between Britain’s social classes really narrowed?. 4 Nov 2008 [12] Social Class: United Kingdom. 20 June 2011
[13] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[14] Social Class: United Kingdom. 20 June 2011
[15] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[16] McDowall D., 2000., p.93.
[17]Petras J. Capitalism and Class Struggle. 25 April 2011
[18] The Latter Rain Page.Class Struggle.2009
[19] Cannadine D. The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.2010 [20] Cannadine D. The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.2010 [21] Cannadine D. The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.2010 [22] R.J. Rimmel.Marxism, Class Conflict and the Conflict Helix.2010 [23] McDowall D., 2000., p.95.

[24] Socialist Party.Social Class in Britain Today. 30 August 2007 [25] Socialist Party.Social Class in Britain Today. 30 August 2007 [26] Social Class: United Kingdom. 20 June 2011
[27] The Latter Rain Page.Class Struggle.2009

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Get Access To The Full Essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Become a member

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59
Become a Member