LIVING in the UK comes with its fair share of head-scratching moments for me.

The peculiar set-up of hot water taps on one side and cold water taps on the other; the inexplicable love for jelly (trifle? Not my cup of tea!); the odd fondness for Marmite; and the omnipresence of carpeted flooring – these things continue to bewilder me.

But what really obsesses me is the whole idea of what is considered middle class in this country. It might be influenced by political discourse and media portrayals, but the middle-class concept here seems absolutely crazy.

When I first set foot here, I thought I had a grasp on what middle class meant. To me, it was in sync with my parents’ vision for their kids: steady jobs ensuring we can comfortably handle rent or mortgage; the idea of a family; maybe a car; the chance to take a holiday; some spare cash for leisure, and an overall sense of wellbeing without going overboard. That is still how I see being middle class.

Luckily, I have managed to tick those boxes. I consider myself in a good place, though I would be more comfortable if it weren’t for the jaw-dropping childcare costs and eye-watering rents in Edinburgh. Who would have thought I would be forking out so much for a dimly lit flat on a noisy street? Life is full of surprises!

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My understanding of working-class life is deeply rooted in my upbringing. Our budget didn’t allow for extras like cinema outings or restaurant visits (I can’t recall dining out with my parents even once), and the notion of a holiday that involved paying for both accommodation and food is a relatively recent experience for me. A holiday meant cooking meals at home, being happy that a lot of activities that young people could do were free, thanks to a socially-minded council. Every bit of income was allocated to essentials, and fortunately, my parents never faced job loss that would have forced them to rely on benefits to make ends meet.

Reflecting on my childhood, I sometimes wonder what my 10-year-old self would think if she saw me today. She would likely be starry-eyed, thinking I live a life of luxury.

This personal history profoundly shapes how I view class, rooted in memories of what we went through compared to our current circumstances. That is what is truly intriguing about class: its inherent subjectivity, closely tied to perception.

Lately, I have stumbled upon columns in various newspapers where people detail their struggles with the cost of living crisis. Some of these narratives seemed detached from reality, especially those lamenting the cost of private school fees for their kids.

Even more bewildering were complaints about the cost of living crisis hindering their ability to keep up with the lifestyle of other parents at that fee-paying school.

Reading about these perspectives made me wonder: Who are these people, and are they trying a new gig as comedy writers? Do they genuinely believe the nation will rally in empathy for their so-called financial struggles?

Their minds would be blown if they truly understood the day-to-day reality of ordinary people and their incomes. The median salary in the UK before tax is a little under £35,000 per year, while we can assume that those parents who are writing columns about their fall in living standards are most probably in the top 10%, earning £60,000 per year. I certainly wouldn’t mind earning that!

Social class is a complex concept, weaving together elements like income, background, education, and lifestyle. Yet it is more than just these factors; it is also about how one sees oneself in relation to some imagined norm.

Take, for instance, the person we are talking about – they genuinely think their challenges mirror what the majority goes through, measuring their struggles against the people surrounding them.

What is deeply ironic is their complaints about the financial strain while choosing to send their children to private schools. Why on Earth complain about financial struggles when you willingly signed up for the whole private education experience?

I mean, private schools are all about hanging out with other well-to-do people and creating this cosy bubble of social sameness. This is literally what you bought.

The difference between private schools in the UK and France adds an extra layer of complexity to how I perceive social class.

I have only ever gone to state schools, but I know that in my home town, private school fees are around €1000 (about £850) per year. Even at the ultra-exclusive Stanislas school in Paris – the one that made headlines when the education secretary had to step down for her decision to send her own kids there – the fees are a bit less than £2200, a substantial amount but nowhere near the astronomical figures parents are willing to pay here.

The National:

To put things in perspective, look at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s secondary school, Winchester College, where the annual fee for boarding pupils is a staggering £49,152.

When parents decide to send their children to these institutions, it’s not just about liking the educational ethos. In a recent piece for website The Conversation, a sociology researcher wrote about parents opting for private school education for their children: “Management standards influence their educational style: many see their child as a project to be managed effectively.

“The attitudes and logic from the business world that they bring into their homes are particularly evident in the vocabulary they use to describe their educational practices. Words like ‘investment’ or ‘added value’ are frequently employed, and the individuals around them may be thought of in terms of being a ‘value addition’ for the child.”

In a nutshell, the way we talk about these personal choices seriously messes with political discussions because it makes everything about the financial struggles of those who have picked the side of social homogeneity. Sure, these fees do hit hard on the wallet, but it is crucial to recognise that there is agency in making this call. This is why I don’t think it is fair to portray that choice as representative of the “squeezed middle”.

It shifts the focus away from the structural issues causing economic inequality. That shift distorts the urgency for broad measures that could make a difference for the majority, like investing in strong, top-notch public services that we can all benefit from – including education.

What gets under my skin is when individuals from such privileged backgrounds insist on labelling themselves as a lower social class than they really are.

A piece of research from the New Statesman has shown that a quarter of people who earned £100,000 or above identify as working class! By doing so, they distort the broader conversation, drawing unnecessary political attention to their relatively comfortable situations.

This misrepresentation not only undermines the genuine struggles faced by those in the true middle and working classes but also perpetuates a skewed narrative. This narrative can hinder meaningful discussions around economic inequality and social disparities.