Class equality

May 21, 2004

As the principal author of the new government social class schema, I take exception to the cavalier criticisms of it by Richard Austen-Baker and Christopher Knight (Letters, May 7 and May 14).

The National Statistics Socio-economic Classification was the product of a seven-year programme of research and consultation. Knight asserts that members of the Academy of Social Sciences and the British Sociological Association would find the new classification risible. In fact, the team that produced and evaluated it included fellows and members of both as well as four fellows of the British Academy. It has been positively received in the UK and overseas.

There is nothing "new Labour" about the classification, either - work began under the previous Conservative government. And, contrary to the original report in The Times Higher , schoolteachers, librarians and social workers are in class 2, not class 1.

As for Austen-Baker's comments, the classification is not ordinal, as he - and Knight - assumes, but nominal. Class 4 is not therefore "lower" than classes 1 to 3, but different from them and from classes 5 to 8. Nor is it a measure of income, but of the typical employment relations and conditions of occupations. Hence, people in the same occupation might be in any number of classes depending on whether they were employers, managers, self-employed or employees.

In any case, there are not, as Austen-Baker states, "many" electricians and plumbers on £50,000 a year: the full-time average annual earnings for plumbers are £23,715 and for electricians £24,854 against an average for men in all occupations of £28,065. Male teachers and lecturers have average earnings far higher then electricians and plumbers and between £1,000 and £12,000 a year higher than the national average. Or does Austen-Baker have access to a better source of data than the New Earnings Survey 2003 ? The Daily Mail or The Sun perhaps?

David Rose
University of Essex

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