Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Rags to Riches: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Rags to Riches: Comment

Article excerpt

There should be a statute of limitations on claiming disadvantage. Never a day goes by without someone telling you that they are from a broken home or related to a miner. These statements may be true, but everything has a sell-by date, even past socio-economic hardships. If you now enjoy a stuffed olive, any prior privation has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Claiming disadvantage is a competitive sport enjoyed at the highest levels. In a recent radio discussion, UK politician William Hague reminded listeners, "I did go to a comprehensive school and I've become the foreign secretary." While ostensibly defending the social promise of Conservative education policy, he couldn't resist clubbing us over the head with his own personal achievement, as though entering politics after a state education is the same as tunnelling your way out of Shawshank with a plasticine fork.

There's nothing we enjoy more than showing people how we've beaten adversity. Often, to maximise our achievements, we'll exaggerate the miseries of our past. And if we haven't got any, we'll sign up to some genealogy site until we discover a distant relative who was shipped off to Australia for stealing a pea. The more comfortably off we are, the more we seek out ancestral indigence, which is why wealthy Americans all love to be Irish. We'll use anything we can to rewrite our silver-spooned story into something Dave Pelzer might have penned.

I know because I do this myself. Whenever I get into an argument about social class, I save my trump card of having been brought up in a council house until right at the end. …

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