My first job when I moved to the UK was as a receptionist at a TV production company in Kentish town. (Well, I was actually hired to move in furniture, but worked up to answering the phones.) The boss there was an energetic, garrulous guy named Ian. He could spin off a dozen concepts for reality TV shows with his first sip of Pinot Grigio, drove his Jag to work every day from his house in Islington – and he was very proud of being working class.
I never really got that. How could the Cambridge-educated managing director of a TV company consider himself working class? In Canada, the class system doesn’t work like that.
Well, it turns out it doesn’t here in the UK, either. So says Science.
Over two years ago, I worked on an interactive investigation for BBC Current Affairs called The Great British Class Survey. The survey launched in early 2011, but it’s taken until now for the responses to be properly studied, revised and published. And what results they have been! On April 2nd, the BBC finally published the results. Apparently it’s the largest study on class ever conducted in the UK, with over 160,000 respondents.
The results have been fascinating. Professors Mike Savage and Fiona Devine, our partner sociologists, (along with their research team) were able to use the data they gathered to blow apart the old three-way working/middle/upper division of class. They describe the UK more accurately with seven classes: Elite, Established Middle Class, Technical Middle Class, New Affluent Workers, Traditional Working Class (yep, that one’s still there), Emergent Service Workers, and the poor, isolated Precariat. You can take the test yourself if you want, and find out which of the seven new classes you fit into.
I’ve been thrilled with the impact this work has had. There have been hundreds of responses on Twitter. There’s plenty of mainstream coverage, too – the Telegraph, Reuters, the Guardian. Even the Daily Mail covered the survey in depth. They even did us the honour of a cartoon by Pugh:
There was even a hilariously sour spin-off piece in Vice magazine.
Plenty of the coverage takes issue with the results, of course – this piece from The Boar is just one example. But that’s the whole point. Class is something important and infinitely discussable, and the survey is sparking debate and discussion. It even looks like all this hot air might have some sort of effect. I’ve seen ‘Precariat’ used at least once in print, and heard it a couple of times in the wild – people at my office were talking about the survey earlier today.
This was a fascinating project to develop and produce. It was the last interactive project I worked on before I left the BBC. I’m pleased to see that it’s come into its own at last, and profoundly grateful to all the people who helped make it happen.