Working-class communities are on everyone’s mind this election year. Across all major parties; Labour, SNP, the Conservatives or the Green Party the question is … where are the working-class voters?

A fundamental Disconect

My community and communities like mine are too often spoken about, but very rarely spoken to. There is a feeling within our community of being on the fringes of the UK’s political dialogue and a sense of being politically disconnected altogether.

The definition of ‘working class’ I will be using in this article will not be the idea of class as related to one’s job or: ’The social group consisting primarily of people who are employed in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work.’ From my own experience of coming from a working-class background and the experiences of communities like my own, this definition is simply not true.

Instead, I will be using a broader definition of class: ‘’At mealtime, do you have a plate of sliced white buttered bread on the table for all to share, regardless of what you’re eating? If so, you’re working class.’’

Like many people across this country, I am ‘poor’ and ‘political.’ I share a common culture, class status, unmistakable ‘unposh’ accent and a clear lack of generational wealth. While our life stories and backgrounds are unique, our access to political spaces remains limited and largely lacking. But why?

Poor And Political

To be ‘poor’ is to face economic barriers that affect your access to the wider political conversation. There is a significant barrier in the UK that hinders one’s ability to engage in political discourse and political decision-making if you’re working class.

‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ Nelson Mandela once said. In the UK, the lack of political education is not the only part of our education system that affects the youth. A lack of general good education produces failing grades and low qualifications. Children and young people from working-class communities are more likely than other groups to go to school hungry, tired, or without essentials such as pens and paper. Such things compromise their education and their future.

The Child Poverty Commission Report highlights the realities of many British children. Why is the educational gap within the class system creating systemic inequalities? Simply put, there are limited opportunities to participate in society without a good education.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often grouped in schools with limited resources, while their wealthier peers attend educational establishments with better facilities in more affluent areas. Many find ‘luck’ in winning the postcode lottery by being born into a more wealthy family or area of the UK. This divide usually extends throughout a child’s time in education and accompanies them into adulthood. As one group of children turn towards higher education and better-paid jobs, the other group is unable to achieve the required grades to pass their UCAS application.

Silenced Voices

This doesn’t just impact the personal life of an individual but affects our democratic process. When, owing to a social barrier such as education, a significant portion of the population is excluded from political participation, a voice is silenced and concerns are overlooked.

‘Time is money’ is a saying that rings truer than ever. Demanding jobs are a challenge to the political landscape. To engage in the political conversation, working-class communities must first make it to the table but ‘low wages, inflation, and pay freezes mean that for more and more employees a second job is a necessity.’

Too many working-class people are left with little free time to attend political meetings, vote during elections, or be able to engage in community activism. There is a need for a ‘quick’ version of politics that many find on social media or in a tabloid newspaper (many of which come for free while you ride the bus). When this is paired with a traditional lack of comprehensive political education and a limited understanding of political issues, it becomes easier to absorb misinformation and feel isolated because one might not ‘get’ what’s going on.

Structural inequalities shaped by converging layers of marginalisation based on factors such as race, gender, ethnicity and religion have in turn created structural inequalities within the UK and across the political system. The complex web created by the political system and systems of oppression has amplified the struggles marginalised communities face in political spaces. As highlighted in the ‘Broken Ladder’ report, women experience discrimination and racism due to their gender and ethnicity in spaces such as the workplace, with 75 per cent of women of colour having encountered racism at work.

An aspect of structural inequality is the intersectionality of the identities it touches. Working-class individuals are often navigating multiple layers of marginalisation that exacerbate difficulties in accessing and influencing political spaces. Racial and ethnic minorities within working-class communities face systemic discrimination and prejudice both within society at large and within political institutions. This discrimination manifests in various ways, including racial profiling, unequal access to resources and opportunities, and barriers to accessing political networks.

Not One of Us

The ‘Colour of Money’ report makes clear the levels of economic and racial inequalities in Britain. Black African and Bangladeshi households have ten times less wealth than their White British counterparts. This normalisation of discrimination extends beyond workplaces to economic structures, where racial inequalities are deeply embedded.

Barriers within society stop working-class people from engaging in political participation. These barriers have influenced the political alienation and cultural factors that have shaped attitudes and behaviours towards politics as a whole. There are both historical roots and community norms that can influence everything within a community from voter turnout to engagement, to trust in the political institutions.

What is the working-class culture? As our identity becomes blurred under traditional definitions of class that have not kept up with a changing social climate, those who once identified as working-class now identify as middle-class due to the traditional occupation-based definition.

But while ideological shifts happen and class values change, one thing stays the same. There is a distrust in most communities towards the political establishment. ‘Many working-class individuals perceive politicians as out-of-touch elites who do not understand or care about their everyday struggles.’ Is this because we do not see ourselves in Parliament?

When politicians speak about our struggles, such as hunger or low wages, they often do so with an accent that they don’t recognise. Traditionally, the person sitting in Parliament for our postcodes isn’t from the same background as us. We seldom see someone from council housing or a public school. So how can communities trust policymakers to make the right decisions when they don’t come from the same communities as us?

A History of Broken Promises

Research shows working-class voters increasingly view politicians as being out of touch. Historical context adds depth to this scepticism. ‘Over the years, working-class communities have heard numerous political promises that have not been fulfilled.’ Broken promises and perceived neglect by leaders have eroded that trust over time. Events such as industrial decline, economic downturns, and austerity measures have further deepened this mistrust. Austerity policies following the 2008 financial crisis disproportionately impacted working-class communities. This all translates into low voter turnout. How can someone believe that their vote will make a difference to the issues they care about when they feel that politicians do not represent their interests? In the 2019 UK General Election, turnout was notably lower in constituencies with higher levels of deprivation.

This election year, working-class communities in the UK stand as an important voting body. However, their voices, shaped by diverse experiences and identities, are largely unheard and unrepresented.

Barriers such as education, structural inequalities, and the ever-changing landscape have built up a wall stopping a large group of the British public from taking part in the country’s political system. The lack of access due to limited opportunities and quality education is hindering the democratic process. For too many, there is little room for politics when poverty, racism, and social prejudice are daily obstacles.

There is an urgent need for political engagement that is inclusive, responsive, and representative of the diverse voices within working-class communities. Politicians must bridge the gap by understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by these communities, not just for votes, but to help our democratic process work as designed.

Only through genuine dialogue, empathy, and commitment to change can we hope to rebuild trust, empower working-class voices, and create a more inclusive political landscape that truly reflects the richness and diversity of our society.

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