White Workers Have Lost Out

Issue section: 

I found Chris Jones's review of The New East End (April SR) unfair.

It was a typical example of a writer misrepresenting someone else's work so they can promote their own approach, which turns out to be not that different.

I found The New East End to be a pretty accurate representation of local white working class perceptions of incomers. Competition is not about jobs and resentment is not focused on yuppies. Rather the welfare state is seen as a reward for suffering by the people of the East End during the Second World War, now being stolen from them by Bangladeshis.

I emphasise "perception" - that's one level of the book. The second - and more contentious - level is the claim that the white working class population has lost out in welfare provision due to firstly a shift from family supplementing to individualistic principles in the 1960s, secondly the fact that Bangladeshi incomers often genuinely are more "needy" and thirdly diminishing welfare provision post Thatcher. Why is this so unsayable? Is it racist per se?

Also Jones presents the authors almost as if they are falsely seeking to trade on their invocation of Peter Wilmott and Michael Young's Family and Kinship in East London. Jones fails to mention that one of the authors of The New East End is Michael Young, coming back to reflect on developments.

The book has failings - not least, as Charlie Kimber points out, that it is based on a 1992 study. But the book is a lot better than the usual litany of "Let's not listen to people who we can discount as racists, with their nasty hoods, their big alsatians and their resentful looks. Let's just continue to marginalise the white working class and pay no attention to what's happening to them and how they perceive it."

Maybe it's actually true that the white working class has no future in New Labour's Britain, and they know it.

Beverly Brown
East London