When the middle is the top

Class and inequality in neo-liberal Britain

The Daily Mail (27th July 2009) got itself into a little bit of a frenzy recently when it reported that David Cameron suggested that “the better-off must share the pain of repairing public finances” and so “tax credits for households on £50,000 a year or more could no longer be justified.” This would mean 130,000 families losing an average £500 a year. Cameron is quoted as saying that “we’ve got to be able to demonstrate to people that this is fair and seen to be fair and that everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel” and “that means the wealthy have to pay their fair share.”

This was presented as a “tax raid” on the middle classes by the Mail, as “part of an honest and frank conversation about balancing the books ‘elements’ of middle-class welfare payments would have to be re-examined.” The first step would be to “rein in tax credits by axing payments to middle-income families” and disqualifying a household for child tax credit if its income is below £58,000 (or £66,000 with a child less than a year old).

While the gnashing of teeth by the Daily Mail is to be expected, what is perhaps less obvious is the shear gall of their protest. This is because, in the highly unequal society produced by 30 years of Thatcherism, earning over £50,000 does not make you “middle-class” or a “middle-income” family. It puts you squarely in the top 5% of the population in terms of income. Yes, really, according to the Daily Mail the bottom-end of the top 5% is the middle!

Here are so facts about neo-liberal Britain the likes of the Daily Mail fail to mention. In terms of number of taxpayers, there are 1,680,000 earning over £50,000 a year. There are 28,590,000 under that amount so just under 6% of taxpayers earn more than Cameron’s suggested cut-off point. The median (50th percentile point) of taxed income is £16,400, for the 90th percentile point it is £39,000 and for the 95th it is £52,400. Median earnings for employees in 2007 were £19,943 per year while mean earnings were just £24,908. The 90th percentile earned £42,902. In terms of Annual Net Household income, the 95th percentile of households has £50,000 (the 99th has £75,000). To be in the top 25% of wealth holders, you need to have $76,098 and they hold 72% of total UK wealth. The top 1% has 21% of the total, the top 5%, 53%.

It is a strange world to inhabit when a suggested policy which will affect well under 10% of a population is considered an attack on the “middle-class”. In a way, this is to be expected given that neo-liberalism makes the rich richer and squeezes the middle (and crushes the bottom) in order to do so. It would be too much to expect those, like the Daily Mail, who wholeheartedly supported Thatcherism to acknowledge the results of that onslaught on the British people – including the very “middle-classes” whose one goal seems to be to emigrate to continental Europe to escape the effects of what they voted for repeatedly since 1979…

But, luckily for the readers of the Daily Mail 1997 is year zero and New Labour are a socialist party who are definitely have been not implementing Thatcherite policies for the last 12 years. And, of course, the solution to “Rip-off Britain” is to vote for the Tories who promise exactly the same neo-liberal policies as Thatcher did in 1979…

What could possibly go wrong? Luckily the readers of the Daily Mail have the EU, foreigners, single mothers, “benefit scroungers” (for those unemployed before the credit crunch, of course), trade unionists and a host of others to blame for their current and future situation…

  


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