Parliament of the United Kingdom  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
social structure of Britain

The Parliament of the United Kingdom still contains a vestige of the European class structure. The Queen maintains her status at the top of the social class structure, with the House of Lords up until very recently still representing the hereditary upper class and the House of Commons technically representing everyone else. Because of the electoral rules, however, the House of Commons historically (until the late 19th, early 20th centuries) represented the Landed classes. In the Victorian era of the United Kingdom, social class became a national obsession, with nouveau riche industrialists in the House of Commons trying to attain the status of House of Lords landowners through attempts to dress, eat, and talk in an upper class manner, marriages arranged to achieve titles, and the purchase of grand country houses built to emulate the old aristocracy's feudal castles. It was the Victorian middle class who tried to distance themselves from the lower class with terms such as "working class", which seemed to imply that their new white collar positions couldn't really be considered "work" since they were so clean, modern, and safe.

It was also in 19th century Britain that the term Fourth Estate was used to describe the press. Thomas Carlyle equated the Queen to France's First Estate of clergy, the House of Lords to France's Second Estate of hereditary aristocracy, and the House of Commons to France's Third Estate of rich bourgeoisie. But he then pointed out that the editors of newspapers in Britain's booming Industrial Revolution (similar to the pamphleteers before and during the French Revolution) held powerful sway over public opinion, making them equally important players in the political arena. The political role of the media has become ever more important as technology has blossomed in the 20th and 21st centuries, but few academic models today set aside the media as a specific class.

It remains important in any analysis of social class in the UK to allow for regional variations. What may be true of England may be untrue or at least less true of Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. Attempts to assume a 'British' class system rarely produce useful or reliable results. Scotland's population's inter-class relations are (from an English point of view) confused by the vestiges of the clan system. Wales had most of its nobility killed off in a series of conflicts between different families and different centres of power, and of course with England. The upshot of this, according to historian Gwyn Alf Williams in his book When Was Wales, has been a country which thinks of itself as being of a single class, like Czech Republic and Slovakia
From a sociological point of view the class system in Britain changed substantially during the 'Thatcher Era'. With the removal of the majority of traditional working class industrial jobs from the market, a new 'underclass', below working class emerged. The 'underclass', defined as, unemployed relying on state benefits, is the new bottom of the British class system.

Due to the integrated nature of modern British society, in which high earning jobs and positions can be attained by people traditionally considered of lower social standing, an individual's social class is now largely governed by mannerisms, education and the status of one's parents. People are often perceived as being upper class if they were educated by a public school, use Received Pronunciation and own a large number of inherited items such as antique furniture, even if they hold a job that has a lower rate of pay or is regarded as socially inferior. Similarly, many high earners can be perceived as belonging to a lower class by dint of having attended state schools or having jobs that society deems lower class, even though they pay relatively well.

If viewed as a hierarchy from the ground up a current model would be as such (below is only a basic model, other factors such as home, attitude, clothing, speech, mannerisms, and family ties etc also affect social standing, although the main factors are wealth and perceived wealth.)

  • Upper class: Generally holders of titles of nobility and their relatives, some with very high levels of inherited wealth. They will often have attended the most famous of Britain's schools, such as Eton and Winchester
  • Upper middle class: Generally professionals with advanced university degrees and usually with a public school education. A significant proportion of their wealth is often from inheritance.
  • Middle class: Similar to the upper middle class but usually from a less establishment-based background and education. Generally professionals with a university degree. Will typically own their own home and earn well above the national average.
  • Lower middle class: May not hold a university degree but works in a white collar job and will earn just above the national average.
  • Upper working class: Generally does not hold a university degree and works in skilled or well experienced role such as supervisor, foreman, or skilled trade such as plumber, electrician, joiner, tool-maker, train driver.
  • Working class: Generally has low educational attainment and works in a semi-skilled or unskilled blue collar profession, in fields such as industrial or construction work. Some examples would be a drill press operator, car assembler, welding machine operator, lorry driver, fork-lift operator, docker, or production labourer. Disappearing fast due to de-industrialisation and automation.
  • Lower working class: Generally works in low/minimum wage occupations, such as cleaner, shop assistant, bar worker. Often employed in the personal service industry.
  • Underclass: Reliant on state benefits for income, described by Marx as the lumpenproletariat.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Parliament of the United Kingdom" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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