Book Review- Chavs- The Demonization of the Working Class

downloadThe word ‘chav’ was being bandyed about when I was at college- a good 10 years ago now to describe a certain type of person; someone young (my age at the time), with excessively gelled hair and a Burberry cap.  They were astounding similar to me and my friends, only slightly poorer and scruffier.

Many years later and Owen Jones has written his book Chavs- The Demonization of the Working Class about how the term has changed to be a more vicious and concentrated attack on the working class.  ‘Chavs’ are now lazy, slutty, unemployed, poor, and involved in drugs or crime.  The Working Class is no longer respected as skilled workers (miners for example) or feared should they choose to strike.  They are also not courted by political parties whose policies focus on the needs of the wealthy (although Jones argues that the middle class that politicians try to woo doesn’t really exist as most people in the UK earn less than £21,000.  On top of that poor people are routinely and publicly mocked and judged in the media, for example Prince William had a ‘chav’ party when in the armed forces and Gymbox in London (a very expensive gym) has Chav Fighting classes.

Importantly all the negative traits attributed to ‘chavs’ are inherent to this class of people and nothing is a result of external influences such as a lack of social housing or mass unemployment with the demise of British industry and economic crash.  And I certainly agree poor people are largely either the butt of jokes or examples of the break down of society but through nobody’s fault but their own.

Not being old enough to remember Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher I found the chapters on her policies to be quite interesting and Jones certainly holds her largely responsible for the destruction of traditional working class communities.  The closing of the mines created mass unemployment in these areas leading to large numbers of people relying on state benefits but also it meant the loss of the focal point of the community.  On top of that encouraging people to buy their council house led to a huge increase in homeless people as new social housing was not built to replace that which was sold off.

I found the book really interesting as it clarified and expand on things I already knew or had thought myself while adding some new facts and figures.  My problem with the book is that the concept of what makes up the working class (and middle class) is a lot less clear than it was a few decades ago which makes understanding arguments about the demonization of the working class problematic.  I also don’t think he makes enough of a link from ‘chav’ to working class which is probably because it’s hard to establish what working class actually is while ‘chav’ is a constructed stereotype.