Monday, 7 February 2011
Defining the Squeezed Middle
Peter Dixon, Chelmsford’s parliamentary candidate in 2010, attempts to define the Squeezed Middle in British politics.
In modern Britain, it’s impossible to put everyone in a social position based purely on income or assets because there are so many variations. Some will assume that the middle refers to middle income or homeowners or even stereotypical families with 2.4 children but it is none of these things.
It is people who are doing ok but feel they could be doing better or who fear that things might take a turn for the worse if they’re not careful or maybe through events beyond their control. I think the ‘squeezed middle’ covers both the ‘frustrated aspirational’ and the ‘fearful comfortable’.
It is also people who are too well off to qualify for overt assistance but are still struggling with family budgets. Some are better off than the wildest dreams of working classes of the past but struggle to match the lifestyles of the high flyers that walk among them. It may be people who look at others and can’t work out why they can afford things that they cannot. They may earn enough to have to pay back student loans if they have them but do not consider themselves wealthy.
The ‘squeezed middle’ are under pressure from modern life even if it’s the pressure of modern shopping centres, prime-time TV or spoiled children. They worry about house prices- whether wanting their own to appreciate or the starter homes they want their children to buy to become affordable. They worry about their pensions, their local schools if they have children, about inflation and unregulated banks and financial services in control of their money. They feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses but are struggling to transport themselves to work or school-runs without costs rising out of control. Many will be ‘sandwich carers’ with dependent children and elderly or infirm parents but also want time for themselves, perhaps to maintain a happy marriage or to recover from a broken one. Ultimately, everyone feels pressure when the national economy declines and we are told that we owe hundreds of billions of pounds.
So what can government do for the ‘squeezed middle’? Everything comes down to good planning with a clear direction. It is something the Tories cannot do with their belief in small government and free-market economy. Although, all western messages are against it and most models have failed, the idea of not planning something as important as the economy is illogical. We have to get the mixed economy right. Financial security and stability are crucial for the squeezed middle as well as business so we need to keep up the things we did well under Blair and Brown- low inflation, low interest rates, steady growth but we need to make it stronger to withstand the attacks from the markets and to regulate capitalist institutions so that the market serves the communities not the other way around. This will require attention to detail and good management.
We need to deal with the pension imbalances and make sure that no-one is being ripped off and facing an uncertain old age. If government wants more people to invest in their pensions, it needs to be much clearer and more certain what the customer will get at the end of it. One of the most uncertain things is the environment with crises of land, food and water supply looming and we need to lead the world in finding real solutions. We need to sort out public transport so that workers are not held to ransom by profiteering privatised train companies or priced out of bus travel as working people are now. Thus communities would be less dependent on the oil markets and road network. This will require attention to detail and good management.
However much people may be caught up in their own life struggle, there is always a chance of emphasising the needs of their children’s generation. Better education for all is any easy starting point but this also needs proper planning and creative ideas. More difficult to sell will be the idea that more homes need to be built for the new generation and we need to be interested in town planning as well as housing budgets. Future fairness also requires that citizens recognise the imbalances caused by cheap inheritance and alternative approaches found. This will require attention to detail and good management.
Health and social security will need to remain top priorities and be produced better and more efficiently. People who cheat the system will also have to be dealt with more effectively. This will require attention to detail and good management.
It is not going to be easy even to produce a manifesto for the ‘squeezed middle’ let alone deliver improvements. But with all the pressures they are under, it is something we have to work hard at. They are the modern ‘working class’ (even though they are much better off than the working class of Marx or even Crosland’s day) and very much come under our responsibility.
Peter Dixon was Labour’s candidate in Chelmsford in 2010
Posted by Stuart King at 08:28