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The ‘White Working Class’ Label is Harming the White Working Class

The ‘White Working Class’ Label is Harming the White Working Class

Using the label “white working class” is distracting policymakers from solutions that will actually help the white working class, according to the Runnymede Trust and CLASS.

The label also ignores the ethnic minority working class, whose economic circumstances and voice have been similarly ignored by policymakers for decades.

The two think tanks have joined forces to publish a new report (‘Minority Report: Race and Class in post-Brexit Britain'), to be launched on Tuesday 21st March.

The key to improving the economic condition of the white working class is for government to take action to help all deprived communities.

The ‘left behind’ are the white working class and ethnic minority working class – and even though they voted differently on Brexit these communities have close shared interests and would benefit equally from policies aimed at all low income groups.

Runnymede and CLASS are calling on the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to bring in the ‘socio-economic duty’ – which is included in the 2010 Equality Act but which ministers have refused to implement.

This duty would force all 34,000 public authorities to tackle poverty and help low-income families.

The new report – a collection of essays from academics – includes the demand to recognise the shared experiences of ethnic minorities and white working class.

Lack of access to jobs and opportunities binds poor white and BME people together, while the white working and white middle classes are culturally further apart.

Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, said:

“The white working class have more in common with poor ethnic minority communities than they do with the white middle and upper classes. Poor white and BME people are bound by shared experiences of social deprivation, but there is also more social interaction between them than between the richest and poorest thirds of white people. 

“The label white working class isn’t helping the white working class because it is all talk and no action. Rather than offer a desperate and empty form of ethnonationalism, best way to raise up this section of society is for central and local government to adopt policies to benefit all working class communities. We are calling on the Home Secretary to bring in the socio-economic duty of the Equality Act. This, and supporting economic growth outside of London, will do more to help the white working class.”

While the working class are united by common experiences across race lines, analysis of the EU referendum vote in June last year shows that ethnic minorities and white voters were split on Brexit.

White voters were more likely to vote Leave if they were poor and Remain if they were rich, ethnic minority voters were significantly with Remain regardless of income. See Notes to Editors.

The Brexit split between working class white and ethnic minority voters is symptomatic of how anti-immigration sentiment is being deployed to divide working class communities.

Dr Faiza Shaheen, director of CLASS, said:

“Mainstream Brexit analysis tells us that it was the white working class alone that drove the Brexit vote, concluding that this group's needs are distinct and that they should take precedent over the needs of other groups. Apart from being untrue, with 59 per cent of the middle class voting for Brexit versus 24 per cent of the working class, this analysis and its conclusions are turning the clock back on progress in our multi-racial community. 

"The Brexit vote is now being used to justify an idea of 'white self-interest', which is simply a rebranding of prejudice and racism. If we are to have a truly 'United' Kingdom we must return to speaking about the real issues that hurt the whole working class - low wages, the housing crisis and devastating cuts to our public services. At a critical juncture in UK history, we cannot afford to let the divisive white working class narrative continue unchallenged."

Dr Faiza Shaheen’s essay in the new report notes that:

Racism and discrimination based on class are overlapping experiences, yet they are never discussed together. Indeed the white and ethnic minority working class are often set against each other, even though they share many interests, such as the need for jobs, equality and housing.

The middle class often make wrong assumptions about both racism and the working class. They seek to define and lead the debate despite knowing little of the experiences of being working class.

Dr Omar Khan’s essay notes that:

The principle of universal service provision to help the poor is good, but targeting is also needed to overcome problems like the middle class taking unfair advantage, for example ensuring public services such as health and education better respond to and reflect middle class attitudes and preferences.  
The shared interests of the white and ethnic minority working classes demands that a new shared agenda is developed to build a platform for joint action and mobilisation.

Media contacts:

Runnymede Trust – contact Lester Holloway on or call 07525 413 137

CLASS think tank - contact Clare Hymer at or call 07903 809 239.

Notes to Editors:

A pre-publication copy of the report (‘Minority Report: Race and Class in post-Brexit Britain') is available on request.
The report will be published at 00:01 on Tuesday 21st March on this link:
Our analysis of the EU referendum figures show that:

70 out of the 107 most racially diverse parliamentary constitutencies voted Remain;
99 out of the 107 least racially diverse parliamentary constitutencies voted Leave;
Many of the poorest constituencies were also the most diverse, which means that not all 'left behind' voters wanted Brexit.

The launch date is also the United Nation's international day for the elimination of racism discrimination

Work areas: Inequality. Tags: brexit, class, race.