We need better education to burst the class bubble many young people live in, argues Deputy Editor Kat Smith
Growing up in Hertfordshire, my peers always had a lot of money. It may not have always been to the point that they ventured on yearly yacht trips, but most of them didn’t have to worry about their family’s financial situation. Throughout secondary school, I felt comparatively less-well-off. My family didn’t go on 3-week holidays to California, I never entertained the idea of a MacBook, and we certainly didn’t brunch every Sunday morning. However, it was considered somewhat normal that many of my classmates at the girls’ school I attended (notably not a private school) could afford all three of these things. Wealth became a symbol of pride, even in us teenagers who probably earned £50 maximum per weekend at our part-time supermarket jobs. In short: it felt competitive and it was, in hindsight, disgustingly ignorant.
From Alfie Deyes’ uncomfortable ‘£1 a day’ video to an ‘austerity day’ at a £24,000-a-year private school in London complete with a ‘simple’ meal of potatoes and fruit, it’s clear there is still tone-deafness when it comes to poverty. Someone I know expressed his pity when he saw from a mislaid bank balance receipt that a stranger only had £200 in their account… I bet most of us are happy when our balance isn’t in the minuses. UK Poverty 2017 highlighted that over one in five of the population live in poverty… this equates to approximately 14 million people. Though the awareness of this is far greater in my current social circles and societies, there are far too many people (including my younger self) who are blissfully unaware of this.
Since coming to university I acknowledge and appreciate my privilege a lot more. Even if I am in my overdraft 90% of the time, I get support from my parents for food and rent and know I have access to support if things really do go wrong. Some may live in Chamberlain and pay £120+ for their second-year rent, but there are so many of us who need to appreciate that we are in fortunate financial positions even if it doesn’t always feel like it. And at university, especially at the University of Birmingham, it’s so clear that everyone has a different financial situation. Assuming that someone has as much money as you and can afford the same activities, food, clothes etc. as you is harmful. Laughing when someone has £10 in their account because you only get to that amount after a big night out is insulting. Being hurt when your friend can’t come to a meal out because their loan doesn’t stretch that far is not fair. Though education surrounding class can start at a young age, it’s never too late to gain some awareness and sensitivity around money.
It’s important to educate our young people on wealth distribution and the reality of poverty in the UK. I admittedly lived in a bubble where I felt like my family were struggling because I couldn’t keep up with my peers when we were actually very comfortable.
Many people stay in the same bubble they grew up in and fail to interact with people from a range of backgrounds. Educating everyone from a younger age to instil some perspective on the reality of our country’s poverty, and the privilege many hold without realising it, would be a huge step away from ignorance and towards a society where class doesn’t define our social interaction. It may stop the lack of understanding when someone cannot afford to take up an unpaid internship. It may stop people calling the most affordable accommodation by degrading terms. It may stop people being so arrogant when it comes to how much money their parents earn.
Unequal wealth distribution is undoubtedly a reality in the UK and I am ashamed of my past ignorance. And, I think more people should be too.