KPMG is making an attempt to bridge the class divide, but the law needs to step in and help
There’s a video of me, 10 years old, discussing my performance in a football match and I’m positively cockney. At some point in the ensuing years, I realised there was a prejudice, alive and kicking in the UK with the class divide. I wanted to avoid its kick so I made a decision to pronounce words differently.
That I detected this prejudice as a youngster, and altered my language, accordingly, speaks to its ubiquity and vitality. Unfortunately, the class divide still present and, more unfortunately, it still isn’t protected by the law. You’re not allowed to discriminate against people on grounds of their race, sexuality or gender… but class – feel free.
Part of the issue is the nebulous nature of class. Trying to define it will give you a headache. Accountancy giant KPMG recently tried to bridge the social class divide. They set themselves a target: by 2030, 29% of their senior hires were to be from working class backgrounds. KPMG say someone is working class if their parents have ‘routine and manual jobs’ such as ‘drivers, cleaners and farm workers.’
This would seemingly rule out someone who was raised on a council estate by a single parent earning £26,000 a year as a teacher . On the flip side, it would seem to include people whose parents did ‘manual jobs’ while making plenty of money. Frank Lampard; son of a footballer, private school attendee, for example, could in theory benefit from KPMG’s scheme aimed at greater social mobility.
Despite the flaws in their plan, KPMG are at least recognising the class divide within their company and making an attempt to address it, which is more than can be said for plenty of law firms with discriminatory hiring practices who plough ahead blindly.
The truth is, we are so mired in class discrimination, so familiar with it, that we can’t see the wood for the trees. Zoom out for a second and it’s quite simple. If a revolution is out of the question, the next best thing is for the law to step in and include class as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act. Sure, class is amorphous, but so are race and gender and sexuality, and these are all protected.
One potential consequence of outlawing class discrimination would alone make the whole process worthwhile; establishing that unpaid internships are discriminatory in nature as they undoubtedly put working class people at a disadvantage at the very bottom of the legal ladder.
And for those who are worried that protection being afforded to others will somehow impact their privilege, you needn’t be, because the law would work both ways and you’d be protected too. Never again will you suffer the ignominy of going for an interview at a magic circle firm only to be rejected on the grounds that you are too well spoken, too highly educated and too well-connected for the role.
This blog was written by Jack Dooley, Paralegal at didlaw.