Class divide – What happened to the ‘British’ Dream?


By Samantha Watson

American activist Angela Davis once wrote that the future generations who should be offered the dream of freedom, what I call the ‘American Dream’, is in jeopardy. Davis discussed this in a 1986 essay when she looked at the crisis of capitalism, but much of what she refers to in the essay echoes much of what is happening in Britain today.

The ‘British’ Dream, if there is such a thing, would be regarded as something many working class families and immigrants aspire to. Essentially it is the opportunity to achieve, elevate and progress up the social ladder and become financially stable. This was and still is an aspiration for many families throughout the country. However, inequality in Britain is in a quandary as the severe welfare changes, government cuts to services and underlying ‘privatisation’ of the NHS charges on. Working class communities are in a state of disillusionment as decisions about their livelihoods are being stripped from within their grasp. That ‘British’ Dream no longer seems to be offered to future generations of working class and immigrant families in the current economic landscape.

Politicians have always had a long tussle with policies which can incapacitate poor working-class communities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s recent look at George Osborne’s budget revealed that it does not address improved living standards for low-income families, particularly around child care. The foundation identified that 6.1 million people in poverty are in working households. For those families how are they to move up the class ladder if their working lives still keeps them below the poverty threshold.

What you will now see is the increase in the average working-class household queuing in the breadline to food banks, organised by places like the Trussel Trust in local churches or you may find families seeking shelter within their walls on a cold night. London boroughs such as Camden are pushing poor families out of the borough to fulfil the government’s criteria to make council savings. We will see these boroughs have an influx of financially well endowed occupants living in inner London. Unfortunately, we will see more poor families being taken out from their communities where they have close family ties and their children will be affected from being pulled out of schools. This will ultimately lead families to suffer the fate of isolation, deprivation and they are unlikely or it will be difficult to have the opportunity to rise up that social class ladder.

In a recent statement, Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said: “Knowing support [from the government] is coming in three years’ time provides little comfort for those who are struggling to make it through to the end of the week. With cuts to benefits and tax rises around the corner, the struggle for millions of poor families shows no sign of relenting.’’

As political leaders utter words like ‘representation’ and ‘reflect’ in their speeches intended to encourage a more diverse government, they must also look at how cleansing poor working class families from communities denies growth and opportunity.

To achieve that elusive ‘British’ Dream working class families need to be given the leverage or extra step to be able to improve their standard of living, otherwise we are set to see the growing class divide grow even wider.

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