This story was originally published on Inclusive Journalism Cymru and is republished here with permission.
Contending with problems of being from a working class background is not about if you wear Nike, it is about the immense guilt, for example, of not being able to help your elderly mum who has been without heating for three years. Class is not about if you shop at B&M. Class is about the helplessness of a parent sleeping in their car while working full time. Having a working class background is not just about what music you listen to, or even if you ticked the free school meals box in school – for me, it is about the lifelong feeling that, as you try and succeed in life, you need to either carry those around you who are struggling or turn your back on them.
This is a dilemma I have faced all of my adult life. Wanting to "make something of myself" but having my degrees and jobs punctuated by chaos and crises that are part and parcel of precarious, poor and working class life in Wales. It is very hard to focus on your career when you are constantly worried about your loved ones' lives. When friends and family are taking overdoses, going to prison, psychiatric hospitals, from one precarious housing situation to the next, from one precarious job or benefit claim to the next… The worry and stress have no end in sight.
As many people acknowledge, class has changed in austerity Britain since the Thatcher years. Dan Evans’ recently released book explores this, claiming how one section of the petite bourgeoisie is economically middle class but culturally working class. However, there is a dire need for acknowledgement and exploration of the "lumpen" in Wales – lumpen meaning the "underclass". This is a country where 1 in 5 children live in poverty, this lifestyle is many people's reality. Poor and working class people are not rare, but you would think that they were unfortunate creatures from a fairy tale if you looked around at the almost exclusively middle class demographic that creates culture and discourse in Wales.
When lumpen working people do write or when things are written or filmed about them, there is a tendency to expect their lives to be exposed in a pornographic manner. The shock factor is all we have to offer and any nuance or dignity is lost.
Social mobility certainly has happened in past decades, although sometimes I am not so sure it is as possible for my generation. It feels as if I would have to turn my back on my family, my community and who I am to have the energy to "make it" and improve my lot. The number of times I have sat at my desk after I have heard of an overdose or an arrest, full of worry and biting back the tears, is not conducive to being someone who can focus on their work consistently. Explaining this context to my employers fills me with fear of judgement. Who wants to out themselves as being from that sort of background?
The way people cope with their cycles of trauma and poverty is severely stigmatised in this society. I do not really want to share that my brother went back to prison or that my friend of many years has just taken another overdose. Shame permeates underclass life.
I am glad that the class is being talked about. However, I believe the problem of class will not be solved by individuals gaining social mobility but is rooted in politics. Whole communities need respect, dignity and resources to have the privilege to live with the security and peace of mind of a "middle class lifestyle".
Neoliberalism has bribed individuals into the middle class with prestige and economic security, wanting to give the impression that the system really is fair and that those who are left behind are just lazy or inept.
I believe we need lumpen working class writers, including ex-prisoners, people struggling with addiction, carers, migrant writers from the global south – to change the classist discourse that flourishes even in the most progressive journalist outlets. From outright disgust towards prisoners and the communities they come from to liberal condescending paternalism – on the left and right wings of journalism – writers still fail to get it right. We all know by now that the news we get, how it is written and who writes it is utterly political. Impartiality only exists to create the myth of a "status quo".
I hope that underclass, lumpen, working class and poor people have their voices heard on their own terms, despite the structural obstacles, or we will continue to live in a world where our cultural reality is seen through the lens of a meritocratic filter that makes our society look a lot more attractive than it really is.
Diffwys Criafol (pen name) is a Welsh journalist. You can follow them on Twitter.
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