Headlines: May 5th, 2006

More people in Britain regard themselves as middle class according to new research that also shows a huge wealth gap between the middle and working classes but suggests that the traditional demarcations are breaking down. The ‘Middle Britain’ report is published today by Liverpool Victoria, the country’s biggest friendly society.The report shows that just over half of the population say they are working class and 43 per cent see themselves as middle class, a rise of 44 per cent since 1966. The researchers predict that by 2020 more British adults will regard themselves as middle class than working class. The study, carried out by the independent think tank The Future Foundation, reveals a gap of more than 104,000 pounds in individual wealth. This is in spite of the fact that working class people’s disposable incomes have risen in the last 20 years, to a level where, even after discounting inflation, they are higher than middle class salaries of the 1980s.

Middle Britain suggests the emergence of what it calls ‘Muddle Class’ Britain with new class types that defy traditional differentiators. It points to ROBs – Rich Ordinary Britons – 2.67 million people who regard themselves as working class although their wealth puts them in the top fifth of the population; HEWs – High Earning Workers – just over half a million people earning more than 100,000 pounds a year but still claiming to be they are working class and SALs – Suburban Asset Lightweights- who call themselves middle class but are asset poor. There are reckoned to be 1.84 million people in that category.

Traditional class markers such as family background, education and jobs are still important, the researchers say, but they are being joined by savings, investments and property indicators. There are also differences in perception between the middle and working classes as to what key class markers are. Working class people see income as a more important factor while the middle classes regard education and housing as more significant.

On spending the study finds that half of working class people say they live for the moment, compared with less than a third of middle class people. The middle classes are twice as mean with their money, according to the Liverpool Victoria survey, 23 per cent more of middle class respondents admitted to being mean with their money, compared to 12 per cent of working class respondents. Levels of home ownership are broadly similar but middle class homes are worth some 70 per cent more. Four in ten of the middle classes own their home outright, with no mortgage, compared with less than three in ten of working class people.