Middle income workers shafted by super-rich

It used to be known as Middle England, but a few years ago it got changed to Middle Britain (Try the Middlebritainometer to see how you compare.)

Supposedly this Middle was deferential to the rich and looked down on those below. Not any more

Britain’s middle earners have lost ground to the ­better-off and the rich, seen their relative status in society decline and been let down by politicians, the Trades Union Congress argues in a report on Thursday.

Thirty years after Margaret Thatcher first targeted voters in middle England, and 12 years since New Labour made its winning appeal to “middle Britain”, the TUC draws a sharp contrast between the fortunes of that group and those of people on comfortable professional incomes. However, this richer group has increasingly been seen, by commentators and politicians alike, as “middle Britain”

The result is that successive governments have failed to deliver what true middle-earners want – a dissonance that helps to explain outrage about the MPs’ expenses scandal, says the TUC.

The findings may make alarming reading for Labour. The high command is aware it cannot win the next general election without the support of this group of voters – normally termed C1s and C2s by psephologists.

The TUC defines “middle income Britain” as the fifth of the population straddling median income, the level that divides the population in two. Median household income was £377 a week, just under £20,000 a year, in 2007.

Median earners have seen their income rise by less than the average, or mean, income over the past 30 years, the TUC says. The mean is calculated by dividing total incomes by the number of people in the UK.

Since 1979 the income of median earners has risen by 60 per cent, while much bigger increases for the better-off have pushed up mean earnings by 78 per cent, according to the report.

While median income fell behind more sharply under the Conservatives as society became more unequal, the TUC says the gap has grown under Labour. Mean net household income in 2007 stood at £463 a week, 23 per cent higher than the median.

“Middle income Britons” who have jobs are concentrated in white-collar and skilled manual roles, including dispatch clerks, retail managers, information technology workers and teaching assistants.

Their experience of life is likely to be marked by econ­omic insecurity – rather like members of the struggling middle class in the US who have been dubbed “the anxious middle” by economists.

Compared with those just above them on the income scale, median earners are less likely to have had a university education, to enjoy a final salary pension scheme, to hold shares or to have significant savings. They are more likely to have experienced unemployment.

They are frustrated, says a YouGov survey for the report. While they have aspirations for more fulfilling work and better living standards, they feel keenly their inability to fulfil society’s rising expectations. Four in 10 people on median incomes believe their job has a lower status than their father’s.

Stewart Lansley, the report’s author, said one of the big failings of the past 30 years was that the middle income Britain of the 1970s and 1980s had not been transformed into the well-to-do middle Britain of politicians’ recent imagination.

“Maybe because of this, middle income Britain holds noticeably different values than those above them in the income hierarchy. They are more pro-state and strongly support government action to tackle in­equality,” he said.

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