Has the EU benefitted the working class?
Today we introduce a series of essays looking at the effect of the EU on the British working class.
Social class is a major predictor of which way you are likely to vote in the upcoming EU Referendum. Those in elementary and manual jobs are almost twice as likely to say they want to leave the EU than those in professional and managerial positions.
A similar division exists when considering qualifications. 70 per cent of those with university degrees want to remain in the EU, while only 32 per cent of those without qualifications feel the same way.
There are multiple reasons for this difference – but the obvious reason is that those higher up the income spectrum gain more from being in the EU than those at the bottom. This uneven distributional impact of the EU is the focus of the series of essays we release today.
The ‘working class’ is used as a shorthand here to refer to those in manual or elementary jobs, on low incomes or welfare assistance – approximately 40 per cent of the population.
This is a group that has seen their wages decline in real terms, who have been growingly subject to precarious working conditions through the expansion of zero hour contracts and casualisation, disproportionately affected by spending cuts, and for those on welfare benefits been the focus of growing scrutiny, sanctioning and public demonisation.
There is no doubt that life for this segment of the population has grown worse over the past few decades.
But why has this hardship converted in to Eurosceptism? The common answer is immigration. While the working class is not the only group that worries about immigration, with more than half of the population feeling that immigration should be reduced by ‘a lot’, they are more concerned than other groups.
Democracy is another – those planning to vote for leaving the EU frequently state dissatisfaction with how democracy is or isn’t working at the EU level.
However, immigration and democracy are simply the drivers of concern that are visible. Once you scratch beneath the surface it is clear that there is something more complex that underlies these frustrations. After all, why should the working class feel more disgruntled than others about immigration or a lack of democratic control?
The EU debate had brought to the surface deep chasms in the UK on issues such as immigration, public services, jobs and sovereignty. Debates so far have demonstrated how elites dominate the public sphere and how years of neglect of the concerns of a particular group, poor leadership and communication have resulted in xenophobia and misunderstanding of who and what is driving hardship and inequality.
The chicken has come home to roost and it certainly not making for a progressive or even honest debate of the issues that matter for justice.
If come June 23rd we do vote to leave the EU, the working class may feel that they have finally prised back some power, but will not see their problems of low pay and insecurity disappear. If we stay, this group will be even more disgruntled, and appeasing the working class will need to be a matter of priority.
One can only hope that the clear class divide in attitudes and likely fallout after the referendum, including the defection of a growing number of the working class to UKIP, will open the eyes of politicians to how policies are affecting different communities and the dire social and political consequences that ignoring this inequality has.