Socialist Worker

Class is a killer in modern Britain

by Patrick Ward and Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2011

Class determines how long you live and whether you will get to college. Two major reports last week underlined how Labour has left untouched a society dominated by wealth and the social power of the elite.

The extra stress suffered by manual workers means they die seven years earlier than the average. Not only are they more likely to die from heart attacks, strokes and cancer, but even their body’s cells tend to age at a much faster pace.

The study, by Professor Tim Spector of the twin research and genetic epidemiology unit at St Thomas’ hospital in London, looked at white blood cells from 1,552 female twins.

It found that on average, body cells in women with manual jobs have characteristics of those seven years older than those of women of the same chronological age with non-manual jobs.

This was true even after allowing for factors such as lack of exercise, smoking and poor diet.The study measured the lengths of telomeres, the repeating DNA markers that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes.

The length of telomeres is an indicator of the amount of stress the cell is likely to have been under. The shortness of the telomeres in a cell indicates the number of times the cell has divided.

Psychological

The researchers found that in women who were manual workers, telomeres were on average 140 DNA base pairs shorter.

Tim Spector said that low socio-economic status was behind the “ageing”. This puts people under greater psychological stress that in turn could have subtle metabolic effects, exposing cells to more damage.

He told the New Scientist, “The greater psychological stress of being in a low social class, with more people above you in the food chain and less control over your life, is the unseen hand that might mean more stress at cellular level.”

The research backs up similar, but much more in depth studies, by others such as Professor Richard Wilkinson.

He has shown that the stress of a lack of esteem and lack of control over our lives is life-shortening and linked to depression.

Such research once more emphasises how unreal the government’s claims are that everyone is living longer and that therefore the state pension age should rise to 68.

In the same week, despite repeated government promises to “widen participation” in higher education, the latest indicators suggested that universities are still failing to attract poorer students.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency found that universities have not widened access or managed to retain students from lower income backgrounds.

Failing

It also found that elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College are failing to reach their targets for students from state schools.

The study shows that 28.2 percent of young degree students starting courses in 2004-5 came from lower socio-economic groups. This is down from 28.6 percent the previous year.

These figures do not factor in any effect from the government’s implementation of top-up fees, which come into effect from September. The new fees will further dissuade people from working class backgrounds from entering higher education.

Yet the Russell Group, representing some of the “top” colleges, is continuing to lobby the government for yet higher fees, despite failing to reach participation targets.

The research has also indicated that institutions that have failed to broaden access also fail to keep students once registered, with universities such as Bolton and Sunderland losing around 20 percent of students during their first year.

The effect of top-up fees is, however, being felt in the drop in applications to university for September, with a drop of 3.9 percent in England. Scottish universities, which will not introduce top-up fees, have had a slight rise in applicants.


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Article information

News
Sat 29 Jul 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2011
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