In any society people are divided into different social groups and they are awarded unequal amount of prestige, economic rewards and power. The division into upper lower and middle classes had for many decades been the cause of enmity and bitterness in Britain. But the English at last have acknowledged the futility of these ancient partitions and try to sweep them away. The bad old system is being smashed and the new Britain is being born.
There has been social mobility in English society for a long time. Now, at the end of the 20th century, we have reached the point where in such fields of life as politics or the Church it is possible to rise to a very top without being born in the famous and rich family.
Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher all came from modest background. And so did John Major, who without the advantages if private education or personal wealth, became a Prime Minister. He is living proof of the flexibility of the English class system. But Mr. Major is wrong in believing that it is possible to create a classless society; at any rate no such society has ever existed. He is wrong too if he thinks that English class system is particularly rigid.
Nevertheless class distinctions in Britain still influence greatly a person's life and career.
The royal family, the surviving titled families and old landowing families enjoy special status in Britain. The status of extremely wealthy people. Wealth means assets which are worth of money if they are sold. The main forms of wealth are: property, stocks and shares. The Queen is said to be the wealthiest person in Britain and one of the richest women in the world. The British land aristocracy is also among the richest, 'cause it owns 40% of British land. This group of the rich has obtained its wealth exclusively through inheritance. There are around 24000 millionaires in the UK. They include supermarket owners, writers, inventors, members of the aristocracy and the royal family, famous writers and music stars.
There is a big difference in the language of the upper class and the rest classes. According to one's accent some people can tell all about the person: how much a person earns, how well mannered the person is, where one lives.
Most people in England are classified according to their occupation. Occupation is connected with many differences in people's access to life chances in such areas as education, health, leisure style and working conditions. According to their occupation people in Britain fall into two broad groups: the middle class (white-collar workers) and the working class (blue-collar workers).
Traditionally, the middle class in Britain was composed of managers and traditional professionals. All people who earned their living in non-manual jobs are considered as middle class people. Nowadays the middleclass is facing two major changes: the growth of the professionals, stimulated by the expansion of service industries, and as for the clerical workers, they have sunk into the working class, however they still enjoy some advantages over manual workers. So, they have become a marginal group, representing the borderline between the working class and the middleclass.
Since the 1950s there has been a massive growth of the middle class and at the same time the working class has started rapidly declining in Britain.
Now there are two clearly distinguishable groups within the working class. They are as follows:
- The traditional working class (belonging to areas of traditional employment such as mining, docks and heavy industry).
- The new working class (the efficient working class, employed in the new industries of advanced technologies and high industry).
These two groups are quite different in their life styles. For example in living conditions, areas of employment, in income, voting behavior, in the feeling of working solidarity and their children's chances in education.
It is important to notice that nowadays the top 50% of the population in Britain own about 97% of the marketable wealth. As for those, who are at the bottom, share about 4% of the national wealth of the UK. Income is less unequally shared that wealth, 'cause it includes tax and benefits.
It is impossible to establish a society in which there are now unprivileged classes and there are certain functions that can not be provided by the poor.