‘White working class’ label masks hidden experiences of all working class communities, warns report

May Bulman
A Vote to Leave campaigner holds a placard in support of leaving the European Union in Bolton, England: Getty

Focus on the “white working class” and their "national pride" in political discourse surrounding Brexit is ultimately detrimental to white people in working class communities, a report has found.

Researchers said the rhetoric of politicians such as Nigel Farage who claim they stand for the white working class is “all talk and no action”, and called for central and local government to implement policies to benefit all low-income groups.

The Minority Report, co-published by race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), highlights "inadequacies" in the current debate around class in the UK, saying it is dividing the multi-racial working class and pitting white people and ethnic minorities within this group — who it says often share similar experiences — against each other.

It suggests that the re-emergence of class analysis following the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election in the US has focused principally on the white working class and their cultural or social exclusion, rather than on how “structural inequalities deny the working class (white or otherwise) access to opportunities, resources and power.”

Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust and co-author of the report, said it was "utterly hopeless" to think the national pride promoted by Mr Farage and others would provide white working class people with real solutions to problems in their lives, adding that politicians benefit from fostering a "sense of white victimhood" as a way of winning votes.

“It is utterly hopeless to think that national pride or a celebration of whiteness is going to provide white working class people with the jobs and the opportunity that will really give them meaningful self-respect and identity," Mr Khan told The Independent.

“There are working class communities where there are relatively few ethnic minorities, but the kinds of solutions that will help them are similar to the types of solutions that will help lack Londoners or Asian people living in Bradford who have similar levels of disadvantage.

"Lack of voice, lack of representation, not being included in the elite-dominated institutions that decide things in Britain — are shared experiences, offering an opportunity to build shared and common interests.

“You can see how it’s in the interest of certain politicians to encourage divisions within these groups as a way to win votes, but it can't offer anything in the way of solutions. It benefits Ukip and others to foster a sense of white victimhood and white disadvantage, but it only causes more divisions."

The report, made up of a series of essays, states that the middle class often make wrong assumptions about both racism and the working class, seeking to define and lead the debate despite knowing little of the experiences of being working class.

It proceeds to suggest that the shared interests of the white and ethnic minority working classes demand that a new shared agenda is developed to build a platform for joint action and mobilisation.

The think tanks behind the report are calling on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to revive a measure included in Labour's Equality Act but abandoned within months of the 2010 election, known as the “socio-economic duty”, which would oblige public authorities to take into account disadvantage and inequalities when making decisions about policies.

Dr Faiza Shaheen, director of CLASS and co-author of the report, said the Brexit vote was being used by politicians to justify the concept of a “white self-interest”, which ultimately distracts from the “real issues” affecting the whole working class, such as low wages and funding cuts.

“The Brexit vote is now being used to justify an idea of 'white self-interest', which is simply a rebranding of prejudice and racism. If we are to have a truly 'United' Kingdom we must return to speaking about the real issues that hurt the whole working class — low wages, the housing crisis and devastating cuts to our public services,“ said Ms Shaheen.

“At a critical juncture in UK history, we cannot afford to let the divisive white working class narrative continue unchallenged.”