Under the headline ‘Epidemic of debt spreads to Britain’s middle class’, Jill Insley, writing in the Observer (18 May), notes that a decade of cheap credit is now causing problems for once relatively well-off people; and that debt advice agencies are being swamped by demands for help from a new type of customer--‘the cash-strapped middle income family’. Like many other commentators, she refers to such people as belong to the ‘middle class’.
As the cost of credit rises, and fixed-rate mortgages end, ‘middle class’ borrowers are turning to such charities as Community Money Advice and, where they exist, the Citizens Advice Bureaux. In such towns and cities as Cambridge, Horsham and Tunbridge Wells, where there is no Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Money Advice report that they are ‘seeing a new type of client’: teachers, police and ‘service sector workers’, many of them struggling with mortgages, secured loans and credit card debts. Most were already financially stretched, but have been ‘pushed over the edge by dearer credit, and big increases in food and utility costs’.
Insley cites a television producer with an annual income of £70,000, an IT support consultant with an annual income of £28,500, and a retired bank manager now with an income of £40,000, of whom all have debits of between £25,000 and £110,000. Another couple, who between them earn £48,500 a year, have a mortgage, six credit cards, two secured loans and debts of almost £200,000
Most of these people, and many millions more, generally imagine that they belong, not to the working class, but to some mythical middle class, often because many of them have salaries in excess of the average. Such ideas are of course also peddled by the media, on the radio, TV and in the newspapers. It is only when capitalism’s ‘good times’ give way to the inevitable downturns that the so-called middle class are forced to realise, often in debut and also sometimes unemployed, that in reality they have but little or no ownership in the means of life, or even their ‘own’ home. To use an old socialist phrase, they are propertyless proletarians; wage and salary slaves, just like bus drivers, refuse collectors or shop assistants.
Hopefully, more of them will realise this and seek a solution to their poverty, and never-ending struggle to make ends meet; of ending the present production-for-profit, capitalist society and organising for a world of common ownership of the means of life. Middle class, they ain't!
PETER E NEWELL