Wait a minute: just who are the middle classes getting the Snip?

An Bord Snip Nua’s report has generated a curious mix of reactionary hysteria, sober analysis, and spin. Everyone who had something to lose, be it their positions, pay or entitlements, came out against getting their share of the pie snipped in the Autumn budget. No one seems to be able to agree which of the menu of cuts are the least damaging. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

The only thing everyone agrees on is that An Bord Snip is out to get the middle classes. The middle classes pay more taxes, are in more debt, many of their houses are in negative equity. Their jobs are the ones being threatened by the downturn, and they rely disproportionately on handouts like child benefit, even though, when means tested, these benefits would be taken from them.

But just who are the middle classes in Ireland? What do they do a living, and why isn’t their voice being heard, if they are due to take such a hit in the near future?

We tend to measure ‘class’ by income: relative to some average income, if you’re rich, you’re upper class, poor relative to the average income, you’re working class. Anything in the middle is some form of middle class, because they are the middle.

Income is just one measure. The types of positions people hold within the workplace, the type of work they do, the amount of power and influence they have over their working environment, their conditions of employment and levels of education, all challenge the simple view of a large middle class. The recently released National Employment Survey for 2007, contains a wealth of information on wages and work structures in Ireland. It shows quite clearly that there is not a large middle class in Ireland, but a large working class, which is why you haven’t heard from them, given that An Bord Snip is out to get them. When you look closely, you see the middle class just doesn’t exist.

Published in the Sunday Independent.

Update. Stephen Spillane has published a reply to my piece here, and my reply to his reply is here.

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