Editors note: The views expressed in this opinion piece are of the writer’s only. We kindly ask readers to turn to check out plenty of content in our Voices, Features as well as our Comment Section relating to this supposedly neglected issue.
As we enter into the jaw-dropping finale of the three-year-long Brexit process that is prorogation it is easy to forget the greatest blight on modern British society: poverty and economic injustice. In April this year Amara, 15, told a report published by the Child Poverty Action Group that he, like many others, often struggles to concentrate in school due to being hungry and not qualifying for free school meals because of his immigrant status. His story comes at a time when 4.5 million children are classed as living in poverty according to the Social Metrics Commission. Back in 2014 the government’s Social Mobility Commission found inequality to be ‘entrenched from birth to work’ due to professional and economic privilege. Such widespread childhood deprivation is perhaps unsurprising given that four million working adults find themselves in poverty despite being in paid work and overall one in five Britons live below the poverty line. It is against this backdrop that one must question why the category of class is absent from the Student’s list of disadvantaged groups in this ‘Liberation’ issue.
The point of this piece is not to dismiss or deny the causes of other disadvantaged groups but rather to argue that in 2019 class privilege is the central cause of injustice in tertiary education and the wider country. It is commendable that the Student is drawing attention to disadvantages that BAME, LGBT and disabled people face but at the same time deeply concerning that class politics does not feature. Since 2008 Britain has undergone the greatest fall in living standards since the Napoleonic wars which have overwhelmingly affected those at the bottom of society and what many economists have come to term as the ‘squeezed middle’. This comes as British CEO pay continues to rise with 11% hikes in 2017. The causes of this disparity can be attributed to austerity policies pursued by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats since 2010 as well as where the 2008 financial crisis originated amongst Wall Street banks and the UK financial sector. Instead of making the elites responsible for the crash pay for the vast public debts accumulated after 2008 the vast majority of the population were forced to pick up the bill through public service and welfare cuts which had the added blow of prolonging the recovery. The political economist Mark Blyth has a term for it: class warfare.
Education is particularly relevant to the injustices that working-class students and prospective students face. Since 2011 schools have faced £7 billion cutbacks, university tuition fees have been trebled regardless of background and, most troubling of all, maintenance grants for the poorest students have been entirely abolished. This matters little to the majority of the University of Edinburgh’s prospective and current student body, about a third of whom attended private schools. For the poorest however, this does have a serious impact on everything from incentives to opportunities to go to university and costs faced while studying. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), working-class students face a ‘poverty premium’ where many feel estranged from peers and unable to pay for accommodation rents. The disadvantage sets in earlier at secondary school level where working-class students are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at A*-C grades. What unites the poor academic performance of African-Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and white working-class pupils is their class background. Ofsted reports have found that the effects of social class on academic performance are twice as influential as race.
So overall class should be seen as the main cause of inequality and injustice in our society and our campuses. Why then does it get no mention in this first issue of the student this year?
Image: Ron Mader via Flickr