Goodbye, Mr. Middle Class
You think, “Why do I want to read an essay by the son of an Old Etonian, himself an Old Etonian, complaining that he can’t afford to send his son to Eton?” But then you start the piece from the Telegraph, and you think, “Oh, man, this guy is onto something.” Excerpts:
So my father went to Eton. I went to Eton. And my son goes to Bishop Luffa Church of England comprehensive. Now this comp is in no way bog standard. It achieves excellent exam results, produces confident, well-mannered children and provides a much wider social mix than you would find at a private school. Nevertheless, my son’s life chances are probably not as great as those of the average Old Etonian.
His big sisters, meanwhile, are now in their early twenties. One has graduated, the other is still at university, studying medicine. Both have student debts to pay. And both are entering a world in which the average UK house price is £242,415 and a staggering £475,940 in Greater London. We will do our best to help them. We’re planning to sell our house, downsize and divide whatever’s left over among the children so that they’ll all have something for a deposit.
But even then, they will each have to take out six-figure mortgages simply to get a foot on the ladder. And they will have to do very well indeed to have any chance of buying a house like the one in which they were all raised.
One might ask: how did it come to this?
When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, the bottom 90 per cent of the population had an average annual income of £10,567. By 2007, that had risen by a little under 20 per cent to £12,430. Now let’s look at the top 1 per cent. In 1997, they made an already very impressive £187,989 a year. A decade later, that had risen by more than 60 per cent to £301,325. So the gap between them and everyone else had increased dramatically in both relative and absolute terms.
The middle classes are overwhelmingly on the wrong side of that divide. And that’s not where their problems end. For as middle-class youngsters look towards university and work, they discover that football’s Premier League is not the only place where British talent is being sidelined in favour of foreign imports. British parents trying to get their children into private schools are having to compete against children – and their hyper-ambitious, money-no-object parents – from Russia, China, India, South-east Asia and the Middle East.
That is even truer at university. I recently attended a graduation ceremony at University College London. This is just the sort of place where the traditional, English middle classes hoped to send their children. Today, however, they are very much in the minority. I have in front of me the book listing the names of all UCL graduands this summer. And it is simply stating a fact to note that there are far more Ahmeds, Chos, Lees and Shahs than Smiths, Joneses and, yes, Thomases.
When middle-class children leave full-time education, they enter a workplace that is increasingly international. The City was once filled with upper-middle-class Englishmen. Today, its institutions are almost all foreign owned and they take employees, male and female, from every corner of the globe. The same trend is starting to apply in the public sector, too. According to a recent House of Lords report, one third of the NHS’s 39,409 consultants come from overseas, with more than 100 countries of origin.
Now, in many ways this can be seen as a tremendous vote of confidence in Britain. The whole world wants to come here – that’s why 80 per cent of prime central London property is now bought by foreigners. But what’s good for Britain as a whole may not be good for individual Britons.
And one might also say that anyone bemoaning middle-class decline is really just complaining about a loss of privilege. Why should anyone feel sorry for over-privileged parents whining about the possibility that their children might be marginally less spoiled than they have been?
The answer, I think, is this: what is happening to the middle class is happening to 99 per cent of the rest of the population, too. Anyone outside the gilded 1 per cent is seeing their relative position decline. That’s an awful lot of people looking ahead and seeing less, rather than more, on the horizon. And, no matter what class you belong to, that’s not a healthy prospect for anyone.
Nobody really knows what to do about it, do they?