Magazine article The Spectator

The Myth of the Squeezed Middle

Magazine article The Spectator

The Myth of the Squeezed Middle

Article excerpt

With soaring house prices and low interest rates, the middle classes are doing rather well. But you'd never think so to hear them


Almost from the moment the coalition came to power four years ago, a mood of deepening grievance has gripped parts of the middle class, fuelled by a sense that they have been the biggest losers from the government's austerity programme. They see themselves as 'the squeezed middle', the ones cruelly punished by rising taxation and the loss of state support. What makes their anger all the greater is the feeling of betrayal. David Cameron should be on their side.

This narrative of victimhood has become conventional wisdom. Only this week Radio 4's Jenni Murray, the epitome of Middle England, wailed that she is 'as cash-strapped as everyone else'. To attend a forthcoming party,  she confessed, 'I will be throwing on an old kaftan bought for £50 online,' then 'hopping into a cheap-as-chips local minicab so I can enjoy the one treat I can afford: a glass of wine.' As a licence-fee payer, I could barely hold back my tears.

The plight of the middle was also outlined in a recent article by Daily Telegraph columnist Judith Woods. 'Here, in the realm of the crushed and the credit crunched, the taxed and the troubled, where there's no child benefit, no help with university fees, no chance of getting the kids on the property ladder and no professional job security, aspirations are on ice.'

But middle-class self-pity is undignified and unjustified. A lot of people from Middle England suffered after the crash, but the idea an entire class was singled out is absurd. The ones who took the biggest hit were those much lower down the income scale, who had their living standards slashed, their wages cut and their jobs destroyed. Indeed, the whole concept of the 'squeezed middle' is a myth. According to a report in April by the centrist Social Market Foundation, no less than 41 per cent of families in the middle income bracket have become wealthier since 2008, while a further 40 per cent have maintained their affluence. Just 18 per cent of middle-class households fell to a lower income bracket. On publication of this authoritative study, the SMF's director, Emran Mian, argued that 'the middle has coped surprisingly well since 2007-08. Two fifths of them moved up the income distribution.' This is hardly a surprise, given the rise in house prices, the reduced mortgage costs and low inflation.

The moaners ignore all that. They have a litany of gripes, from student fees to property taxes, which all reflect a spirit of entitlement as egregious as that of any benefit claimant or union boss. One of their most selfish complaints is the alleged 'scandal' of elderly relatives being forced to 'sell the family home' to pay care fees. If a family has a large asset, in cash or in property, why on earth should other taxpayers have to subsidise private care? This is about children who do not want to look after their parents themselves and seek public funds to protect their inheritances.

It is the same story with university fees, which, in one of the coalition's first and bravest acts, were raised to £9,000 a year. Despite all the predictions of armageddon in higher education, there has been no drop in university applications. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.