How many people are destitute in the UK?

3.8 million people in the United Kingdom experienced destitution in 2022, including 1 million children. This is according to the Destitution in the UK report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The number of people experiencing destitution has increased by two and half times since 2017. Three times as many children experienced destitution in 2022 compared to 2017.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation…

Destitution denotes the most severe form of material hardship. People are considered destitute if they have not been able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2023) Destitution in the UK 2023

The number of people experiencing destitution has increased since both 2019 and 2017.

The main items lacked by people facing destitution in 2023 were food (61%), heating (59%) and clothes (57%).

graphic showing items destitute people can't afford UK 2023

What kinds of people face destitution?

85% of people do not have complex needs, the vast majority are not homeless.

  • 75% of people experiencing destitution are in receipt of some kind of state benefit.
  • Single people are at highest risk of destitution. 60% of those experiencing destitution in 2022 were single.
  • Almost two thirds had a chronic health problem or disability
  • Black led households were three times more likely to experience destitution.

Three main causes of destitution

  • Inadequate benefits. The income threshold for Universal Credit simply doesn’t pay enough for people to meet their basic human needs.
  • Debt. Getting into debt can put people into destitution, trying to get out of debt can keep them there.
  • There is some evidence that Covid-19 was starting point which pushed more people into destitution. However, most people who are destitute in 2022 had been struggling before the pandemic!

Solutions to destitution

Many compassionate people would suggest we need an overhaul of the benefits system. Make sure that Universal Credit pays enough so that people are not destitute. Also we could make it easier for people to access disability payments (PIP) if they are entitled to it. Finally, we need to reform the way we allow people who get into debt to deal with it.

More left leaning sociologists such as Marxists might suggest we need deeper structural reform. We need something in place which makes work less precarious so fewer people are moving in and out of work, for example. Structural reform in terms of more social housing with cheap rent could also help the poorest.

The New Right, in contrast, would say this is precisely what needs to happen to encourage people off benefits.


This is a useful update to income and wealth inequalities. This research demonstrates that life is getting tougher for more people at the bottom end!

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Increasing Billionaire wealth in Britain, and increasing inequality in society 

The wealth of billionaires in Britain has increased by 1100% in the 32 years between 1990 and 2022. 

  • In 1990 there were 15 billionaires who controlled £53.9 billion in wealth.  
  • By 2022 there were 177 billionaires who controlled £653.1 in wealth. 

These increases reflect a wider increase in inequality in the UK more generally. However the increase in wealth at the very top, such as billionaires, has been the most extreme. 

bar chart showing increase in billionaires in the UK from 1990 to 2022.

Most of the increase has been driven by an increase in the number of billionaires, but there has also been a concentration at the very top. The top two billionaire households in 2022 controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of billionaire households in 1990. 

Billionaire wealth has increased due to the structure of the UK economy. It has continued to increase post-Covid despite the wider population facing economic crises. 

Billionaires are not uniquely hard working, or intelligent, or creative. Instead, billionaires are better seen as the primary beneficiaries of an economic system which produces huge levels of poverty and inequality, and has left the UK particularly vulnerable to the multiple, overlapping crises we have faced over the past few years.

This blog post is a summary of ‘Billionaire Britain’, a report from the Equality Trust.

Measuring Billionaire Wealth 

There is no quality data source on wealth in the UK at the national level. This is because there is no systematic recording of wealth when it is taxed. The Wealth and Assets survey suffers under-reporting from the very wealthiest households. 
The Times Richlist is the most comprehensive source, but this could miss out on various assets and under-report wealth. 

Billionaire Britain uses data from the Times Rich List. 

From a research methods perspective this is an interesting example of how power shapes data collection. The very richest are the most powerful and the UK government doesn’t systematically track data on their wealth. In fact, tracking is poor that Billionaire Britain estimates at least £4.4 billion of property investment in the UK has been bought by corrupt individuals. 

Why are there more billionaires in Britain?

Two underlying structural changes have enabled massive accumulation by those at the top: 

  • Firstly, the financialisation of the UK means that those with wealth now have greater returns on their investments. This is due to corporations focusing on profits over wages and the inflation of asset prices. 
  • Secondly, deregulation has resulted in less restrictions and fewer taxes on wealth. This has attracted more wealth to the UK. 

Of the 177 on the 2022 billionaire rich list 42 gained their wealth through investing and 39 through real estate. 

Financialisation is where the financial industry becomes more important to the economy as a whole. 

The finance sector consists of a range of different industries from investment companies (including real estate investments), stocks and shares funds, hedge funds, and insurance and pensions. 

In a primarily finance based economy, the production of tangible products is less important, and many of the financial services seek to make returns trading financial instruments without creating anything of any value. 

One consequence of a financialized economy is asset price inflation. Financial companies invest in assets such as houses and land for a return (rather than seeking to develop land or improve houses themselves) which pushes the prices up. 

A second and related consequence is more households taking on debt. This is increasingly required to buy more expensive assets, such as housing. 

A third consequence is more companies seeking profit over wages and quality services. They become more concerned with providing dividends to shareholders over paying decent wages. 

In terms of service provision, energy and water companies have extracted billions in profits over the last years. Shareholders have got richer as a result. However the infrastructure is now crumbling in many cases, as evidenced with things such as leaky water pipes. 

All of the above has resulted in a more unequal society as a few benefit from financialisation. Meanwhile at the bottom end people have relatively less money AND worse services. 

What are the solutions to increased wealth and the inequality this causes? 

The Equality Trust suggests five courses of action…

  1. Introduce a progressive wealth tax. That means the wealthier you are the more tax you pay! 
  2. Make corporate ownership more democratic, so more people have a say in what happens to profits. 
  3. Regulate the financial sector more. 
  4. Return essential services to public ownership. 
  5. Improve tax transparency and end tax havens. 
  6. Create more community wealth funds to invest in areas that need it most.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is an important update for anyone interested in wealth and income inequalities in the UK.

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Do we need to tax the top 1% more?

Wealth distribution in the UK is shockingly unequal, especially if we take into account the wealth of the top 1%.

For 2018-2022 the distribution of wealth according to ONS data (1) was as below:

wealth inequality bar chart uk 2018-2022

Or in table form:

DecileTotal Household Wealth
Top 1%£4,403,500
10th (Highest) wealth decile£1,941,300
9th wealth decile£1,031,200
8th wealth decile£685,500
7th wealth decile£470,300
6th wealth decile£339,600
5th wealth decile£222,200
4th wealth decile£129,200
3rd wealth decile£47,300
2nd wealth decile£23,000
1st (Lowest) wealth decile£8,000

The extreme difference between the top 1% and the bottom deciles is stark. The top 1% have average wealth of over £4 Million, the bottom 10% only £8000 on average. (This is median household data).

This means the wealthiest 1% of households are 550 times richer than the bottom 10%.

The potential benefits of wealth redistribution

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation just over 20% of households were in poverty in 2020/21. 8% of these households are in very deep poverty (2)

To round things up let’s think about increasing the wealth of the bottom 10%.

Redistributing just 50% of wealth away from the top 1% could do amazing social good. If you did this then each of the 2.3 Million households in the bottom 10% would receive around £22 000 each.

£22 000 per household for the bottom 10% of households could contribute towards:

  • better insulation or damp proofing. The poorest households tend to be those in the worst conditions.
  • An education or training fund for one or more household members.
  • Small business start up costs.
  • Medical fees as appropriate
  • debt clearance, to help prevent the debt-cycle.

There is no way the top 1% are 550 times more hardworking or talented than the bottom 10%. This will be wealth unfairly accumulated due to previous generations having had wealth.

Thus there is no moral argument against taking all of this unearned wealth away, let alone just half of it!

NB we could have exceptions for the working class roots self-made millionaires. There will be a few thousand of these no doubt!


(1) ONS: Total wealth: wealth in Great Britain Dataset | Released 7 January 2022

(2) Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Depth of Poverty over Time

Social Class and Identity

To what extent do people of different social class backgrounds identify with their objective social class position and feel as if they share anything in common with people of the same class?

According to the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) there are seven objective social classes in Britain today, based on the amount of mainly economic but also cultural and social capital people have, which crucially has accumulated over time and is passed down the generations.

An individual’s objective class position impacts their life-chances but while most people can recognise the existence of social class and may recognise the class they are, most people today DO NOT consciously identify with that class position: they are more likely to be ambivalent about their own social class, and are unlikely to feel any sense of shared identity with those from the same objective class background.

This is especially true for those in the middle of the social class scale: there is widespread uncertainty around working and middle class identities, but the Elite class are more likely to see themselves as ‘elite’ and the precariat more likely to recognise that they have been labelled as such by wider society, but seek to distance themselves from that label.

Only 32% identify with a social class and the proportion rises the higher up the social class ladder you go, which is a sort of inversion of class consciousness.

  • 50% of the elite identify as elite.
  • 25% of the precariat identify as working class.

Of those who do did identify:

  • 25% of people identify as upper middle class
  • 41% identify as Middle Working Class
  • 62% identify as Working Class.

So people shy away from identifying as middle class: People are most likely to identify as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ irrespective of where they fall in the objective class structure.

This post with take a brief look at the history of social class identification in Britain before exploring social class identities in contemporary British society, looking at ‘elite’ identity, working and middle class identities, and the Pecariat.

A Brief History of Class identification in Britain

Historians have shown that class awareness has a long history in Britain. Compared to other nations it is the persistence of working class identities that stands out.

In Britain the early onset of capitalist agriculture in the sixteenth century produced a large group of wage-earning farmers who also moved into part-time handicrafts to supplement their incomes.

Thus even before the industrial revolution there were a lot of independent skilled and unskilled trades people in Britain, and this cross fertilised with the socialist and labour movements in the 19th century, producing a strong shared identity.

In contrast to this was the British upper class which was not shattered through revolution as was the case in France. The British upper classes pursed a form of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ which was embedded in industrialism and colonialism and they prospered through innovation and free-trade enterprise.

The expanding middle class of businessmen, managers and white collar workers existed in an uncertain position in the middle of the aloof upper classes and proud working classes, and they were in a sort of mediating position between the two.

The franchise being extended in 1832, 1867 and 1885 to gradually incorporate more of the middle classes did something to distinguish the middle classes from the working classes who still could not vote.

Gradually throughout the 19th century the middle classes engaged in conspicuous consumption to differentiate themselves from the working classes below them, but their position remained somewhat uncertain and insecure.

During the 19th century the class position of women was even more ambiguous than that of men. Women’s occupations consisted of mainly domestic work (such as cleaning) for upper-middle class and upper class families, nursing and teaching. They thus occupied either working class positions in closer contact with higher classes compared to men, or lower-middle class positions which didn’t command the same status as men.

For much of the 20th century there was a preoccupation with who was working class and who was middle class, further fuelled by the changing nature of work during that period.

The work of George Orwell is a good indication of the fascination and complexities surrounding understanding class in the early 20th century.

Elite class identity

Britain’s ordinary class elite is the top 6% of society who have the highest levels of economic, cultural and social capital. They are most likely to own their own homes (a crucial source of wealth) and be in high income professional occupations such as law, finance and journalism.

Britain’s ordinary class elite are most likely to positively identify as ‘elite’, although they also tend to ‘play down’ how important their enormous amounts of economic, social and cultural capital have been in providing them with better life chances, preferring to delude themselves that their success is purely down to their hard work and talent.

While Britain’s ordinary class elite makes up only 6% of the population, they made up 25% of the British Class Survey sample. They were queuing up to do this in droves, and Savage (2015) suggests this is because the survey was a self-legitimating activity for them: it was a chance to get quantitative/ scientific/ objective confirmation that they were at the top of British society.

And this class were the most likely to share their class status to social media, suggesting again positive identification with and a sense of pride in their social class status. However, they usually did this with a sense of irony or humour, in an attempt to distract from the bragging aspect.

The elite don’t really identify with everyone from the same class: they tend to identify more with people in similar occupations and in their local neighbourhoods: so those with similar value properties, they also tended to stress that they had some friends outside of the elite too to demonstrate that they weren’t living in an isolated social class bubble.

It is very important to recognise that NOT actively recognising that their elite status is important is the primary means whereby this class maintain their dominance. They benefit from high levels of cultural, economic and social capital, but in playing down the existence of these advantages, they help to keep such advantages hidden, but the GBCS revealed just how obvious such advantages were in keeping this class and their children at the top of British society.

Working and Middle Class Identities

The traditional view of class is that people would identify with their objective class position. This was the view of THOMPSON: the working classes would unite in tight knit working class communities and come together around collective political campaigns for labour interests. However, in the 21st century there is a more muted, individualised and complex set of class identifications.

The GBSC found that people were ambivalent about class, preferring to say that they straddle middle class and working class boundaries.

Class is not important as a badge for most people, but its mention does prompt emotional reactions, especially negative ones. People wanted to avoid the labels of CHAV or as someone who has ‘middle class problems’.

People also felt a sense of shame if they were from a lower social class background but had not climbed the class ladder.

People shy away from identifying as middle class. They were most likely to identify as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ irrespective of where they fall in the objective class structure.

Identity among the Precariat

The Precariat were well aware of the negative labels attached to them by the mainstream media and the widespread dislike of them by many in mainstream society.

They were the most reluctant to take part in the GBSC, probably because they had little to gain from doing it: they didn’t want to take part in what was effectively ritual humiliation the end result of which was receiving a formal label which placed them at the bottom of the social class scale.

In terms of identity, the Precariat didn’t positively identify as Precariat, and had no interest in shouting about their low social status (unlike many members of the elite) and they were reluctant to even talk about social class, preferring instead to identify in other ways, such as with other members of their local community or through using other markers such as gender.


Savage, M (2015) Social Class in the Twenty First Century.

Britain’s New Ordinary Class Elite

The top 6% of the UK population by wealth and income make up a new elite class who also have the most cultural and social capital

In Britain today, there is an ordinary wealth elite who make up the top 6% of the population by wealth. Their mean household income is £89 000 and the average values of their homes £325 000. They have average savings of £142 000.

These figures mean they have wealth and income more than double that of the next class down on the Great British Class Survey, and they have got there by reaping the rewards of steady accumulation of their capital assets. The rise of rentier incomes from second homes forms a significant part of this.

Among the elite, meritocratic justification about wealth ran deep. They tended to stress that their success, income and wealth reflected their hard work, rather than it being down to the advantages they had because of the generations of accumulated cultural, social and economic capital they had benefitted from.

Others played down their wealth by positioning themselves in a relative sense, pointing out they were not as well off as their friends, and some deflected the issue by pointing out ‘accidental accumulation’: house prices having increased so much in London and the South East for example.

However, the top 6% do not see themselves as united, but are more aware of their differences There are fractures as well as solidarity at the top. In other words, the upper class layer is not a coherent and cohesive group but rather a scene of internal contestation between those with the most resources.

Cultural Capital and the Elite Class

The contemporary class elite defies traditional ‘upper class’ presumptions. It is a differentiated and heterogeneous formation which lacks a unitary defining feature.

Its cultural motifs vary and its members conform to a highbrow norm, although they are the most likely to express a preference for opera, classical music and so on.

While the traditional elite of the past marked their distinction by selectively consuming only the visible prestigious forms of culture, members of today’s elite are also in tune with contemporary and popular culture.

Occupational diversity also makes up part of this constellation. There is no unitary group to be found among the wealth class. Different professions such as business, law, academia, media and science compete with each other to assert their authority in the public domain.

These elite occupational blocs may have distinctive cultures of their own and so form niches, and this is especially true for some of the older professions such as architecture and law.

In spatial terms London is where the elite class predominately live. Having a relationship to the London scene and being prepared to work in London are essential. There are also regions within London, niches dependent on property prices.

You don’t necessarily have to have been born in London, but living close to it and being familiar with its geography are important.

There are also cultural elite bubbles in places such as Hampstead and Hackney and a legal elite around Waterloo station for example.

The elite class and meritocracy

The ordinary elite class strongly believe they got to where they are through meritocratic means, through their own hard work and effort, and they often contrast themselves to those who are not, like them, hardworking, but we shouldn’t take these beliefs at face value.

While it is true that they often got into their current high paying jobs by performing well in the education system and then succeeding in the cut throat professions they have also benefitted from their parents’ economic, cultural and social capital.

Many of them went to private schools and Shamus Khan has pointed out that private education is today about imparting the ‘meritocratic skills and practices’ that are required to get ahead in corporate and professional jobs. Ironically because these skills are taught most effectively in fee-paying private schools this means this is NOT meritocratic.

However there is still recruitment to this class from the outside: 25% come from comprehensives.

Elite universities play a role in separating out the very top professions: a boundary separates those who went to Oxbridge from the even those who attended Russel group universities.

The ordinary elite is not very glamorous nor glittering or self-recruited. It is not socially closed. However, people do have to perform to join it. They have to display knowingness, it is hard work being a member of the ordinary elite!

The Elite and the GBCS

The elite were more likely to do the Great British Class Survey. Despite making up only 6% of the objective class structure, 21% of the sample doing the GBCS were from the elite class.

Due to technocratic confidence they have the intellectual confidence and interest to take part, and taking part was a chance to obtain the private gratification that they had made it to the top.

They saw doing the survey as self-affirming, as a chance to have their elite status confirmed and flocked to it in disproportionate numbers, and the GBCS obliged them by awarding them with an ‘elite coat of arms’.

picture of the elite class summary from the great british class survey

Many of them then flocked to Twitter to communicate their ‘official’ elite status to the world. One example:

‘According to new #bbcclass survey I am elite. Nice to see a long-obvious reality reflected in hard data at last. Knee! Bow! And so on…’

What this (representative) tweet shows us is that the elite wanted to boast about their now socially recognised status, but dressed it up in a tongue in cheek way with humour to deflect away from this bragging.

It was also as if doing the survey gave this group a kind of scientifically based legitimacy to brag about their status: rather than them judging themselves as ‘elite’ the survey had done it for them, so all they are doing here (apparently) is stating ‘facts’.

This material was summarised from Savage (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century.

This material is relevant throughout A-level sociology but especially relevant to the Culture and Identity module.

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A Brief History of Class identification in Britain

A brief summary of how the middle and working classes emerged and changed from the 17th to early 20th centuries.

Historians have shown that class awareness has a long history in Britain. Compared to other nations it is the persistence of working class identities that stands out.

In Britain the early onset of capitalist agriculture in the sixteenth century produced a large group of wage-earning farmers who also moved into part-time handicrafts to supplement their incomes.

Thus even before the industrial revolution there were a lot of independent skilled and unskilled trades people in Britain, and this cross fertilised with the socialist and labour movements in the 19th century, producing a strong shared identity.

In contrast to this was the British upper class which was not shattered through revolution as was the case in France. The British upper classes pursed a form of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ which was embedded in industrialism and colonialism and they prospered through innovation and free-trade enterprise.

The expanding middle class of businessmen, managers and white collar workers existed in an uncertain position in the middle of the aloof upper classes and proud working classes, and they were in a sort of mediating position between the two.

The franchise being extended in 1832, 1867 and 1885 to gradually incorporate more of the middle classes did something to distinguish the middle classes from the working classes who still could not vote.

Gradually throughout the 19th century the middle classes engaged in conspicuous consumption to differentiate themselves from the working classes below them, but their position remained somewhat uncertain and insecure.

During the 19th century the class position of women was even more ambiguous than that of men. Women’s occupations consisted of mainly domestic work (such as cleaning) for upper-middle class and upper class families, nursing and teaching. They thus occupied either working class positions in closer contact with higher classes compared to men, or lower-middle class positions which didn’t command the same status as men.

For much of the 20th century there was a preoccupation with who was working class and who was middle class, further fuelled by the changing nature of work during that period.

The work of George Orwell is a good indication of the fascination and complexities surrounding understanding class in the early 20th century. The Road to Wigan Pier is an especially good example of this!

Signposting and related posts

For an introduction to social class from the 20th century onwards, please see this post: an introduction to social class.

This material was summarised from Savage (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century.

The Great British Class Survey

The GBCS found seven ‘objective’ social classes based on economic, cultural and social capital. However, most people do not identify with these social classes!

The results of the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) were first published in 2013 based on a sample of 161 000 responses.

The survey used a range of questions to measure three types of Capital:

  • economic capital (wealth and income, especially housing wealth)
  • cultural capital (of which there are two types: highbrow and emerging)
  • social capital (who people know, and the status of who they know)

The survey drew heavily on the work of Bourdieu in its design. One of the key aims was to measure the three types of ‘capital’. This is because social class in Britain today is a matter of advantages that people have accumulated over decades, and even generations as economic, cultural and social capital are passed down to children.

The results of the survey were analysed using ‘latent’ class analysis to group responses into clusters of overlapping answers and revealed that are seven broad social class today as below:

  1. Elite (6% of the population): the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals which sets them apart from all other classes. Typical jobs include lawyers, doctors and higher-level managers. Much of their wealth is in property (they are typically home owners), and their income and wealth are double that of the next class down. Also one of the oldest classes in terms of age with an average age of 57.
  2. Established Middle Class (25% of the population): members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class. Average age of 46.
  3. Technical Middle Class (6%): a new class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged. Average age of 52.
  4. New Affluent Workers (14%): this class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group with an average aged of 44.
  5. Emergent Service Workers (15%): a new class which has low economic capital but has high levels of ‘emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are the youngest class with an average age of 32 and are often found in urban areas.
  6. Traditional Working Class (19%): this class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The oldest class with an average age of 66.
  7. Precariat (15%): the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. These are the most likely to rent and will typically be in unskilled temporary jobs, with an average age of 50.

Key findings from the Great British Class Survey

  • The elite class, the top 6% is far removed in terms of economic, cultural and social capital from all the other classes. For example, they are twice as wealthy on average as the next class down. 22% of respondents in the GBCS were from this class.
  • The elite are happier to identify as elite than other classes: they recognize themselves as distinct.
  • The precariat is also distinct from the other 6 classes: they are much more likely to rent rather than be home owners and much less likely to know someone in the elite class.
  • The other five classes are less distinct, and there is ambivalence among respondents about whether they are working or middle class: more than 60% of respondents were reluctant to identity with a social class.
  • Age plays an important role in determining class, mainly because of property ownership: most people in the elite are over 50, most people in the technical middle classes are much younger.
  • Mike Savage (2015) saw the GBCS as an act of symbolic violence against the Precariat: only 1% of respondents were precariat, they were reluctant to do the survey because they saw it as an act of labelling them as inferior; the elite flocked to do the survey and then tweeted about their status afterwards: for them it was an act of class-affirmation.

Ambiguous Class Identities

The results of the survey give us a set of ‘objective’ class positions, however in terms of identity very few people identified with their own social class position.

The elite were most likely to identify as elite and think of themselves as superior, however they tended to play down the significance of money in their lives and emphasise the people they knew from different classes and the eclectic tastes they had rather than just ‘highbrow tastes’ .

This mirrors how cultural and social capital work: their importance is played down and not spoken about, they confer silent and subtle advantage on the children of the elite, but they themselves attribute their success to meritocracy and hard work.

‘Lower down’ the social class order more than 60% of people didn’t identify with a social class at all. People today are reluctant to identify with social class because of the negative labels associated with social class: Chavs for the working classes and #middleclassproblems for the middle classes.

There was also a significant tendency for people to identify themselves as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ of the social class scale: rich and poor alike tended to say ‘I am somewhere in the middle’, possibly people tended to compare themselves with people of a similar age, or with people in their local community rather than social class.

In the lowest social classes, especially the Precariat, people recognised the economic constraints on their lives and how these limited life chances but they were reluctant to take part in the survey because they knew it would label them as inferior.

The rest of this post provides an overview of Bourdieu’s cultural class analysis and then summarises the findings of the survey for economic, cultural and social capital.

Bourdieu’s cultural class analysis

Class is fundamentally tied up with inequality, but not all economic inequalities are about class. For example, if someone wins £10 million on the National Lottery, this does not automatically propel them into the elite or upper classes.

What determines someone’s class goes beyond one single transaction. If that same lottery winner invested their money in stocks or set up a business and sent their children to private school, we might then, several years afterwards, start to talk of them having moved up the social class hierarchy.

According to Bourdieu, social classes are fundamentally associated with the accumulation of advantages over time, a view which reflects the trajectory of his own life as he was born the son of a rural French postal worker and ended his career as an illustrious professor at an elite university.

He was interested in the symbolic power of class and the shame and stigma that were bound up with forms of domination. For him class was associated with how some people feel ‘entitled’ and others ‘dominated’, thus recognising the cultural elements to social class.

Bourdieu saw class privilege as being tied up with access to ‘capital’ which he defined as having ‘pre-emptive rights over the future’. Some resources allow people the ongoing capacity to enhance themselves and the processes associated with the uneven distribution of resources are crucial.

In the words of Bourdieu himself: ‘Capital, in its objectified or embodied forms takes time to accumulate and has a tendency to persist, so that everything is not equally possible.’

For Bourdieu it is essential that we understand class historically rather than as a series of transactions as snapshots in time; in any one moment we come to social life with different endowments, capacities and resources, and thus social classes are historically forged.

Thus life-chances (such as your chance of getting into a good university) are NOT like playing roulette. In roulette two individuals place a bet, one on black and one of red, both have an equal chance of winning. And if they do so for another round, they have an equal chance of winning again. The odds are reset to the same after each round. Who wins in round two is NOT affected by who won in round one.

With economic (and cultural) capital whoever wins round 1 (generation 1) passes on a greater chance of winning to whoever bets with them on round 2 (their children)

Cultural Capital

Economic capital is one important form of capital Cultural capital is another.

Cultural capital is a form of inheritance, associated with educational qualifications. Well-educated parents pass on to their children to capacity for them to succeed in education and get qualifications to get them into the best jobs. This is not a direct inheritance but a probabilistic one.

Cultural capital is passed on, but in a opaque way, dressed up in the language of meritocracy and hard work, and thus its existence is denied. This opacity is part of how it works, because it makes it impossible to challenge.

This is like gift economics in gift-based societies: gift-giving tacitly demands reciprocation at some point in the future, and is, in reality, about someone with ore capital (the person able to give gifts) manipulating or dominating the person they give the gift to, because by doing so everyone knows they owe the gift-giver something.

Yet this is never spoken about, and it appears that the gift-giving is voluntary and altruistic, and the maintenance of this narrative-myth in public is key to the gift-giver maintaining their power.

According to Bourdieu, to accept the gift as a gift is a form of symbolic violence, it is an acceptance of domination, but as soon as we refuse to see gifts as voluntary and altruistic, they become a form of domination or manipulation.

This is similar to they way in which cultural capital works: in reality middle class parents pass on their higher level academic skills and ‘highbrow’ cultural tastes to their children and THIS is what gives them an unfair advantage and helps them be more successful, but in public we DO NOT TALK about this, instead we prefer to believe that it is simply the hard work of the middle class children that accounts for their success.

Social capital works along similar lines to both cultural and economic capital: the upper middle classes have more contacts their children can use later on in life to get them jobs in, for example, hospitals, law firms, and finance firms.

Capital accumulations and social class

These three forms of capital: economic, cultural, and social take decades to accumulate, they are the result of careful accumulation over the lifespan of parents, who then pass them on to their children, who pass them on to their children and so on.

For those born with little or no capital, it is very difficult to catch up all on your own. It can be done, but you have a long way to go compared to the children of the upper middle classes.

Economic capital

Britain is more unequal than most comparable nations and 78% of Britons are in favour of some forms of redistribution, but when it comes to viewing their own lives, people do not straightforwardly place themselves as winners or losers despite this intense inequality.

Simply noting that Britain is unequal and is getting more unequal tells us nothing of how people experience these inequalities. Economic divisions stamp themselves in complex ways in people’s identities.

Based on interviews with the Great British Class Survey, people in very different economic circumstances all place themselves in the middle, but if you dig down into it ‘being in the middle’ has different meanings depending on their objective position in the economic class structure.

In general, those with modest amounts of money are aware of how a relative lack of money has shaped their life in the past and continues to constrains their life in the present.

Whereas those with money tend to downplay the importance of it. Those who have money report caring less about it. They are able to stand back from the brute power of money itself.

People do not want to show off, nor do they want to recognise the shame and stigma of being at the bottom. Yet despite this, economic inequalities are central in shaping people’s lives.

Wealth inequalities and social class

Britain has got a lot wealthier in the 20th and 21st centuries, so much so that income from employment in the present is increasingly overshadowed by the influence of wealth accumulated from the past.

The absolute gap between the top 1% and bottom 50% by wealth increased threefold from 1976 to 2005.

The absolute increase in wealth is divisive: it means that those who start today with no wealth have a larger hill to climb in order to reach the top and this makes breaking social inequality difficult.

Bringing wealth into an analysis of social class has three major implications:

  1. It makes us realise that income is not the only, or even the main way economic capital influences people’s lives.
  2. The gap is getting bigger, so it is harder for people at the bottom to climb the ladder.
  3. Wealth is accumulated, and so your parent’s wealth matters – we need to understand class in terms of transfer of resources from young to old

The power of income inequalities

According to the Spirit Level Britain is a country of gross high income inequalities.

The Higher Managerial Class earns three times as much as those in routine manual occupations, but within the top class there is a group of especially well paid occupations such as CEOs, doctors, lawyers and financial intermediaries, and these occupations have pulled away from similar occupations which require similar education and skill levels.

The top 10% earn nearly 17 times as much as lowest 10%.

Is there a new aristocracy?

The GBSC shows us that there is a strong overlap between those who have extremely high incomes, savings and wealth.

In social terms those with the most economic capital are only slightly more likely to have degree-level qualifications. Those who have the most economic capital really do have the most privileged backgrounds.

The very wealthy also tend to have a strong awareness of themselves as either upper or upper-middle class, and they are more likely to identify as such.

Those with the most economic capital also have distinctive social and cultural characteristics too, they have more exclusive social networks.

House ownership and social class

One of the most important things which makes positioning oneself on an economic scale is whether one owns a house or not, something which is especially true for the over 50s, many of whom bought houses when they were much cheaper back in the 1990s.

There are many people, for example, who have had traditionally working class jobs for their entire lives, but by virtue of having bought a house in the ‘right area’ 30 years ago, are now sitting on property worth more than half a million, with no mortgage.

On the other hand there are also many people who have worked in traditionally middle class jobs but are sitting on cheaper properties with huge mortgages.

By way of an example: where would you place the following two people on the class scale?:

  • A builder with no qualifications earning £30K a year with a property worth £700K and no mortgage.
  • A teacher with two degrees earning £45K a year with a property worth £300K and paying £15K a year on their mortgage for the next decade?

These two examples demonstrate how difficult it is to place people on class scales today and show the complexity of class identities, and that’s just factoring in income and housing wealth, and before we even look at the cultural and social aspects of class identification.

looked at more broadly, owner-occupied housing is now thoroughly implicated in the accumulation of economic capital, creating a powerful categorical divide between those who are owners and those who are tenants.

The housing divide also tends to increase the significance of age and location in terms of social class divisions.

The meaning of economic capital revisited

People’s perceptions of economic inequality might not involve comparing themselves with those in other occupations but rather those in certain geographical locations or age.

In this way the effects of economic capital can be naturalised so that monetary differences are associated with a range of personal, social and spatial factors which may make them appear ‘natural’ in the minds of many.

The fact that it takes so long to accumulate economic capital is why people place their situation in the context of life histories rather than draw direct ‘relational’ contrasts with the wealthy or poor, and thus people see their economic fortunes tied up with their life histories rather than global economic forces.

In the minds of respondents property was a very important form of economic capital, especially as it could be passed onto the next generation.

The continued importance of economic capital

An increase in economic capital clouds the boundary further between working and middle classes and it means those at the top are further apart.

One cannot make simple judgements based on occupation alone. Economic capital especially housing has an impact – age and region.

We can only understand economic capital by recognising it is the result of long term accumulation. In every dimension the better off are more closely associated with historically resonant forces: social cultural or coming from a senior managerial background. Economic capital is about long term investments.

Finally, growing relative proportions in economic capital might reduce general awareness of where they stand in relation to other people. It’s not just about income and employment anymore: people compare themselves to those of a similar age and neighbours!

Cultural Capital: Highbrow and Emerging

Most people are aware that economic capital (wealth, especially housing today) are assets that can be accumulated and invested to give oneself and one’s children advantages in life.

However most people don’t think of cultural tastes and interests as being forms of capital, but for Bourdieu they are, and what matters is the extent to which one’s tastes and interests are seen as legitimate. There are countless cultural pursuits, but not all are valued equally.

For example, there is a widely held notion that classical music and literature, fine art, opera and have more legitimacy and value and show better taste than Big Brother and computer games.

Traditionally three factors have cemented the notion that ‘high culture’ is superior:

  1. High culture has been deeply promoted by the state through subsidies from bodies such as the Arts Council.
  2. The education system reinforces the idea that classical literature and music are superior.
  3. Cultural critics and other taste makers further reinforce the idea.

Social Engagement: the new divide

The GBCS believes that cultural capital still exists today but that it has changed its form.

We see this from a cultural mapping exercise which shows us which kinds of activities are NOT done together and from that we can see which are furthest apart and even in contrast from each other and a hierarchy emerges.

Cultural activities ACultural activities B
Liking fish and chipsGoing to the theatre
Eating out rarelyGoing to the gym
Not going to restaurantsGoing to rock gigs
Not liking pop musicPlaying sport
Disliking Indian foodGoing to art clubs
Not going out with friendsWatching live sport
Disliking jazzLiking French and Italian restaurants
Disliking world musicLiking world music
Not going for a walkGoing to museums and art galleries
Disliking reggae musicGoing to the opera and ballet

Cultural mapping shows us that it is more likely that your choice of activities will ALL come from one column in the table above rather than finding equal numbers of activities from both columns.

On the right hand side of the column, the activities involve going out into the world of public, cultural institutions, such as going to the theatre and eating out at restaurants and on the left hand side there is an aversion to these, and most readers would probably recognise there is subtle social pressure to view the activities on the right as more socially legitimate.

Those on the right are socially approved of and supported, those on the left abstain.

This is not quite the same as ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture because also on the right we find activities such as going to the gym and rock concerts.

Those who are well educated and have a high income tend to engage in pursuits on the right and vice versa, so cultural tastes do map onto social position. The activities on the right require, in general a lot of money, those on the left do not.

For those on the left, they do not simply sit at home passively watching T.V. but their cultural activities are more likely to be informal, and kinship or neighbourhood based, done in private and with less of a public profile.

For those who engage in the activities on the right, it involves taking part in public life, they are more visible and this may lead to more confidence and assertiveness. They have more of a public profile.

Someone on the left may well be very culturally engaged, but they are more likely to play themselves down as lacking ‘culture’ as not being very informed. Those with lower income are more tentative about what good taste is as they tend to lack confidence.

Those with ‘good taste’ are more likely to be confident that their tastes are legitimate and may use this to ‘inflict’ their taste on others. They are sure they have ‘good taste’. They are at ease. They are much happier to communicate this conviction in public.

The secondary cultural divide: highbrow versus ’emerging’ cultural capital

Cultural mapping also reveals a second set of oppositional tastes and activities. Activities such as going to the opera, classical music and ballet correlate with disliking rap and popular music:

Cultural activities ACultural activities B
Liking fast foodGoing to the theatre
Being indifferent to classical musicDisliking pop music
Being indifferent to heavy metalGoing to stately homes
Liking rap musicLiking classical music
Liking vegetarian restaurants Disliking reggae music
Being indifferent to jazz musicDisliking rap music
Playing sportNot going to fast food restaurants
Not going for a walkDisliking rock music
Taking holidays in Spain Going to museums and art galleries
Watching live sportGoing to the opera and ballet

Those tastes and activities on the right are consistent with ‘highbrow taste’ and seems to support Bourdieu’s views on Distinction.

Those on the left who prefer such things as popular music are more likely to state they are ‘indifferent’ to classic music and so on.

Age is also a factor in this opposition, with younger people being more likely to fall into the left hand column, those with ‘highbrow’ tastes are more likely to be older. The average age of a Radio 3 listener is 62.

When we factor in both age and class, we see from this are two modes of cultural capital: ‘highbrow’ and ’emerging’.

  • Highbrow culture is more established, historically sanctioned and institutionalised in the education system, but is also an ageing mode of cultural capital.
  • Emerging is more hipster – adopted by the younger middle class – it has its own infrastructure in bars and on social media and sports and may be institutionalised in new professional workstyles which emphasise adaptability.

So with respect to cultural capital, younger people are not obviously disadvantaged compared to their elders: they partake in these new forms of cultural capital and are engaged.

People are also increasingly keen to express their eclectic tastes, the drawing of sharp boundaries was relatively rare, even among older respondents.

Sociologists in the USA have talked about the rise of the ‘cultural omnivore’ who is more culturally tolerant and less snobbish and more accepting of diversity. This is NOT what the GBCS reveals.

While the better off talked about their eclecticism there was a ‘knowingness’ about this diversity of engagement. For example, the elite tend to be very selective about which precise and particular ‘unusual’ aspects of popular culture they like, and explained in great depth why they like them.

They were off the cuff about their like of highbrow tastes, but had to legitimate their like of things falling outside this.

Emerging capital is thus not about liking popular culture per se, but rather demonstrating one’s skill in manoeuvring between the choices on the menu and displaying one’s careful selection of particular pop artists. Demonstrating WHY you liked something (in relation to your life) was as important as WHAT you liked.

Especially among the younger generation, no pop artist was out of bounds, but this was usually done with a lot of justification – exhaustively selective, even in terms of Burger King over McDonald’s.

In other words, emerging cultural capital is expressive, it is a performance.

For example on respondent: Henry said of his music tastes – ‘there is no cohesion at all’ and he was proud of this, but his play lists included such things as ‘obscure’ and ‘hopelessly poppy’. His collection of tastes was about having material to add to discussions in university halls.

You can consume ‘right pop music’ but also ‘wrong pop music’ in the right way by demonstrating an eclectic taste but a privileged understanding.

Ways of Seeing

There is a difference between activities which are immediate and sensuous and discerning.

Discernment is the ability to judge across genres and justify these: skills associated with education and professional jobs. These are not neutral skills and those who value them tend to denigrate immediate, sensual reactions.

There is a class differences in how things are enjoyed. The basis of a new snobbery.

Just getting lost in classical music at a sensual level is seen as inferior to engaging with it at a more highbrow level of appreciation: being stretched intellectually is seen as superior to merely being entertained.

The working classes are more likely to express just ‘getting lost in the music’ but for the middle classes, engaging in something just for pleasure was often tied up with guilt: being too knackered to do anything better after work, for example.

Cultural snobbery

Emerging cultural capital embeds its own form of subtle hierarchy.

People in higher class positions distance themselves from snobbery but they contradict themselves by showing a dislike of culture that was mass produced.

Reality TV and talent shows were frequently mentioned as things they didn’t like as was Bingo and certain fashion brands.

Responses to questions about such cultural tastes tended to start with a denigration of lifestyle (so not personal) but then moved on to a criticism of the people who liked them: such as audiences of reality shows being passive and easily duped by advertisers.

Towards the end of interviews, when they were more relaxed, the wealthier better-educated respondents often considered cultural tastes as powerful indicators of pathological identities, expressing even disgust.

They tended to commend themselves on their own flexibility and energy in choosing the ‘right’ cultural products, and in contrast saw those who watched shows such as the X factor as being lazy and non-discerning.

Cultural activities were not seen as just private enthusiasms, they brought with them social baggage.

Social Capital

Most of us understand the importance of networks in our lives, especially in the age of social media.

Most of us pride ourselves on having a wide range of social contacts, and especially for the elite it is seen as vulgar to stress that you only know other people from the elite, they stress the working class people they know.

However we are also aware of the strategic importance of knowing certain types of people.

Bourdieu’s conception of social capital is that it is something the privileged and powerful use to protect their interests and shut out those without social capital.

Three main findings from the GBCS about social capital were:

Social networks are not exclusive. Most people know someone a fundamentally different walk of life, so we do not live in a closed society.

However, there is a strong tendency for those in professional and managerial jobs to know people in similar jobs and the same is true for those in manual and routine jobs. People in the bottom quintile know just over one person in one of the elite 8 positions, for those in the top quintile, they know three.

The extremes are distinctive. The very wealthy are much more likely to know very advantaged people than everyone else, so these are more closed off. And those with no educational qualifications are much less likely to know those from other occupational clusters. The elite occupations are the most socially exclusive.

Social capital accumulates over time, and is passed down. Those with a parent ranking in the highest-status income earners know twice as many people in the elite professions compared to those whose parents belong to the routine manual class.

A Subtle shaping occurs: social capital determines who you socialise with, and how you think about your class position, but this is not immediately obvious in day to day life.

Social Class: the new landscape?

The interplay of economic, cultural and social capital generate the kinds of cumulative advantages and disadvantages which may fuse together in social classes more broadly.

Drawing links between these three kinds of capital is complicated because the three strands are organised on different principles.

Economic capital has accumulated massively in recent years, but it is difficult to see cultural and social capital accumulating in this sort of way. Technical innovation especially means people have more cultural and social capital than previously, but it is difficult to map this out because there is so much diversity, unlike with economic capital, which is more blunt.

Economic capital has been subject to more absolute accumulation, but with social and cultural capital the accumulation is more relative, in that people have become divided by different kinds of cultural interests and social ties.

We often fixate on where there is NOT a fit between these types of capital – such as with wealthy footballers or self-made working class millionaires, but Bourdieu tended to see these three types of culture as coinciding – there was a ‘homology’ between them, but the fit was never perfect.

The GBCS confirms Bourdieu’s view to an extent: it shows us that there are some common intersections between these three types of capital, but it is far from perfect, and age also has a significant impact on class location in the new class scale.

A new model of social class?

The responses to the GBCS were analysed using a model of ‘latent class analysis’ to group the three types of capital and show how they cluster.

The seven classes were then ranked according to their economic capital, the variable that is the most unevenly distributed.

The hierarchy here is not always that distinct, for example it is uncertain whether the new affluent workers should be placed higher or lower than the technical middle class.

The two most clearly differentiated classes are the elite and the precariat. These score highest and lowest on most of the measures of the three capitals.

The elite have incomes twice as high as any other class and by far the largest house values. They also have the highest amount of ‘highbrow’ capital, and extensive social networks. With the elite we see more of a ‘homology’ than with other classes.

At the bottom the Precariat refers to the precarious proletariat. This class has the lowest household income, little savings and is the most likely to rent property. It also ahs the fewest social ties, and least likely to know people in the elite. Its cultural capital is also more limited than other classes.

Signposting and Sources

This post was summarised from Mike Savage’s (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century.

You can do the Great British Class Survey here.

This material is essential for A-level sociology, especially any topic relevant to social class inequalities, and the culture and identity module.

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Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis: Case Studies

Qualitative case studies of how real people are managing the Cost of Living Crisis is a useful way to provide insight into the reality of poverty in the UK in 2022, adding some necessary depth to poverty statistics which can be rather inhuman.

A very useful contemporary resource which does just this is a recent documentary from Panorama which aired in April 2022 and is called simply ‘Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis‘.

The documentary follows three working families – two two parent families and one single mum. All the individuals in the documentary have decent jobs and some even bring in the median income in the UK but all are living in relative poverty and having to make difficult decisions around how to spend their money.

One family earns £2000 a month, but after the mortgage, bills and food they are left with £63 a month to spend – which would just about cover a meal out for the family. The father of this family has a 75 mile round trip to work every day and they have found rising fuel prices recently have taken up a lot of their spare cash.

Another of the case studies is a single mum who works part time as a nurse – she can’t work more than three days because she can’t afford the cost of child care – and besides being employed she is dependent on food banks and hand-outs from friends. After her mortgage she is left with £80 a week fork food and everything else for her and her three children.

The documentary shows the dilemma of ‘heating or eating’ with some families having to stretch a few pounds on an electric or gas metre out for several days – expensive key metres don’t help here.

The adults of these families are going without food – one husband eats only one meal a day for example. And this causes stress to older children – who are aware that their parents are going without food and possibly say they are not hungry when they really are in order to make sure their parents eat more.

The documentary does a good job of showing how much stress being in poverty causes is also clearly a good deal of anxiety around future price rises and how they are going to cope.

The Video is available on YouTube here, at time of writing, but I don’t know how much longer it will stay up!

Find our More/ Related Posts

Wealth and Income Inequalities in the UK 

What is Poverty? 

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK 

The Effect of Poverty on Life Chances

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Resources for Wealth, Poverty, Income Inequality and Social Class

good resources for teaching wealth, poverty, income inequality and social class. Useful further reading for students studying A-level sociology!

Here you will find links to some contemporary sources for further reading organised into the following categories

  • Annually published statistics and reports
  • News articles from the last five years (often based on the above)
  • Videos and Documentary resources
  • Committed organisations dedicated to studying this specific topic.

I will endeavour to update this list at least every three years, but with so much material already on this might be a challenge!

These resources are intended for students studying an introduction to A-level Sociology – for the main blog posts introducing the topic of social class and inequalities please see the relevant links on the introduction to sociology page.

Annual research studies on income and wealth inequalities in the UK

ONS – Household wealth in the UK (published biannually in January)

ONS – Household Income Inequality (published March every year).

Allianz World Wealth Report (Published October every year).

Social Class and Inequality In the News in 2022

The Heat or Eat Diaries from The Guardian – a varied series written from a mixture of people living in poverty, academics and journalists.

Working class people feel like they ‘don’t’ fit in’ to middle class working cultures – An excellent article from The Conversation based on research into how middle class cultural capital makes working class people feel like they don’t belong in middle class jobs – because of cultural differences rather than their ability.

Covid-19 increased social inequality in the UK – A Revise Blog Post outlining some of the ways in which the Pandemic made society more unequal.

In the news in 2021 and before

Videos and Documentaries on Social Class and Inequality…

Made in Britain

The Made in Britain Series from The Guardian gives video cameras to those who are themselves living with the cost of living crises and supports them to make videos of their own lives. I’m not sure what research method you could call this – video diaries I guess, with technological assistance from professional film editors?!?

Panorama – Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis (2022)

Why are so many people living in Poverty? News Night (2021)

Selected Contemporary Research Studies

How many people are in poverty in the UK? – A nuanced attempt to try and estimate the number of people in relative poverty

How does student debt affect life-chances?Links to education and social class inequalities – and yes, as you may have thought, being in debt because of having to pay fees does have a detrimental affect on your future life-chances.

Poverty is the main cause of violent crime in LondonAnother way in which poverty has a negative influence on life changes, links to the crime topic.


Mainly focussing on UK poverty, for more on Global Poverty see Globalisation and Global Development!

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) – A committed organisation working to solve UK poverty through research and advocacy

Nuffield Foundation – works to improve equality of educational opportunity

The Equality Trust – focussing on research on the harmful effects of social inequality on societies and individuals

The Social Mobility Commission – a government funded (but ‘independent’) organisation which monitors social progress (or lack of it) towards (or away from) social mobility.

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Sociological Perspectives on the Cost of Living Crisis in the UK

Inflation in the UK hit 9% in April 2022, mainly due to the rising cost of energy prices and food prices, the main cause of which was supply-line shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, but also because of the longer term disruption to business caused by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic….

At least that’s the ‘official analysis’ of the causes of the cost of living crisis by the government in this recent report: ‘Rising Cost of Living in the UK‘ but while it’s hard to deny the fact that prices of basic goods and services are rising, some sociological perspectives may well go a little deeper than this in their analysis of the causes of this crisis, while others fail to explain its existence altogether…

Globalisation… and the declining relevance of Nation States…

EVEN if we look deeper at the cost of living crisis than official lines of analysis, it is still the case that global events are affecting Britain here.

Britain has very little control over the global forces that are influencing rising prices.

Moreover the British Government seems incapable of doing anything to help people. This of course is because we have a neoliberal government in power who believe in helping people as little as possible, especially the poor but even if we had a more left wing government in power it wouldn’t be able to do very much to soften the blows of the increasing cost of living other than taking on more debt by bailing people out.

This seems to be a case of Nation States being too small to deal with global problems as Anthony Giddens has pointed out in the past.

Marxism applied to the rising cost of living….

As with many ‘applications’ of ‘Marxism’ I’m applying some Marxist concepts here in a broad sense!

Most obviously Marxists would remind us that this cost of living crisis is affecting the poorest MORE than the richest – the top 10% will feel the effects of the crisis much less than the bottom 10%.

And for the bottom 10% of households by income a 10% immediate increase in the cost of living (NB it’s not just energy and food, rents have also gone up) really is a matter of choosing between ‘eating or heating’.

And Marxists would go deeper than this – reminding us that a crisis such as this was only a matter of time because Capitalism is ultimately doomed to failure. Even without the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine this rising cost of living affecting the poor more than the rich would have happened eventually, or Capitalism would have had some other ind of crisis which resulted in recession and more inequality.

In a world of finite resources and increasing population, with more developing countries developing large middle classes (such as India) this simply pushes the prices of everything up – labour, goods, resources, everything is more expensive – eventually the exploitation of the poor that cheap consumer items and food and energy are based on must come to an end.

At some point we have to start thinking about how we live in a post-capitalist world according to Marxists.

‘Micro Perspectives’ applied to the Cost of Living Crisis

This is an interesting article from the Conversation which argues that the government needs to measure poverty depth more accurately in order to effectively tackle the cost of living crisis.

It points out that not all people living in poverty face the same challenges – for example life tends to be harder for people with children rather than single people.

It also points out that government help needs to be more targeted on those that need it most – so far only 1 in 3 pounds of relief money has gone to the poorest 50% of households.

Perspectives which might struggle here..

Functionalism would struggle here, this is just dysfunctional! And clearly people aren’t all in this together!

And PostModernism – there’s nothing hyperreal about this, it’s very REAL, about energy and food prices costing enough and people going cold and hungry.

Although maybe IF people are living in hypereality this could help get them through – maybe the government jus needs to subsidise people’s Netflix subscriptions…?

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This topic is most likely to be useful in the Theory part of the theory and methods exam – it is a contemporary event that can be used to illustrate understanding of sociological concepts and perspectives.