Failing white working-class boys

White working-class boys are being let down by an education system ruined by identity politics.

Simon Marcus


So the handwringing goes on. White working-class boys are behind almost every other group at GCSE level. They are hugely underrepresented at university, and private schools even refuse bursaries to help them. Worse still, this failure continues into adult life, the government doesn’t keep records on most of it, and few even talk about it.

But the problem has been on the radar for well over a decade. A 2008 report showed that the GCSE grades of white working-class boys eligible for free school meals (FSMs) fell to the bottom of the pile, as black working-class boys’ results began to improve. Girls were, and still are, more successful across the board.

From 2006 until 2011, I was director of the Boxing Academy, a charity for excluded students in Tottenham. You couldn’t get grants or funding unless you explained how you were going to help disadvantaged minority groups. This was okay for us. Our students were mostly black and they deserved extra support. But white working-class boys eligible for FSM, with the same needs and the same broken homes, got nothing.

The reports a decade ago on failing white working-class boys should have focused minds. But they didn’t. Instead, curricula and funding continued to favour minority groups and girls at the expense of others.

The authorities were behind the curve then, and now those boys from mid-2000s are adults. So what has happened to them? We don’t really know because there is no clear research. Any information we get on white working-class boys eligible for free school meals (FSM white boys) in adult life is hidden in the broad category of white male, which also includes Eton-educated sons of millionaires, so it tells us little.

But while there is little evidence regarding outcomes in adulthood, it is possible to get a broad idea of how FSM white boys have done later in life.

For example, unemployment among black males in the UK in 2019 was at a scandalous nine per cent. This shows support is still needed and that the action taken in the past 20 years isn’t working. White-male unemployment in 2019 was 3.8 per cent. This is near to full employment, so nothing to see here.

But, while we don’t have data on white working-class males, look at the unemployment in areas where those FSM white boys from a decade ago grew up, and where they are likely to be overrepresented in the population. In the borough of Hartlepool, for instance, the male unemployment rate is nine per cent.

Benefit-claimant rates by parliamentary constituency in 2019 provide a better like-for-like comparison. Tottenham, one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, has a claimant rate of five per cent. Constituencies with a large white British majority fare worse. Middlesborough has a claimant rate of 9.4 per cent. In South Shields, it is 9.2 per cent. In Blackpool South, it is 8.1 per cent. If it were possible to identify those who were FSM white boys at GCSE level, you could bet the claimant rate pushes 20 or even 30 per cent.

We know that some minority groups are overrepresented in the prison population. For example, despite people from ethnic-minority backgrounds making up just 13 per cent of the national population, they make up around 27 per cent of the prison population. But of the remaining 87 per cent of the white British national population, what proportion are FSM white boys who failed their GCSEs? Again we don’t know. But we can have a guess. Over half the prison population is functionally illiterate, and we know educational failure is overrepresented in prison. So, again, it is probable that much of that white prison population consists of FSM white boys. That would be a significant overrepresentation.

How many of those men were excluded from school and went to pupil referral units? Around 71 per cent of children at PRUs are white British. They do not come from middle-class homes. The fact that over 42 per cent of students at PRUs are FSM again indicates an overrepresentation of working-class white boys.

For almost all of these boys, it all starts with a broken or abusive family. In the UK there is no available research in this area, but in the US there is solid evidence to suggest that this is where it all begins. Changes in social morals, patterns of work, employment and culture have all had a massive impact on poor working-class men. Both black and white British boys, and others without the traditional values of sub-continental cultures, have suffered from the collapse of the traditional working-class family and community.

It is everything I saw at the Boxing Academy. Broken families, father-absence, low aspiration, a macho, physical culture, the need for an identity, purpose, acceptance and love. These problems need answering. For these kids are far more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime, join gangs, suffer from substance abuse, and develop mental illness.

The truth is that white working-class boys are one of the main casualties of the 20th-century culture war. The liberal left won, and inaugurated the new world of identity politics based on race and gender. This divisive ideology won’t help kids if they are white.

Brexit tore the mask away, and now we know how the liberal left sneer and laugh at the white working class. Middle-class white men get off easily. They can keep quiet. Or they can join the ranks of the self-loathing, check their privilege and volunteer for diversity training.

But white working-class boys went to school and learned Britain was a uniquely bad country. They learned to be ashamed of themselves and accept that they were sexist and racist. One award-winning teacher said that sometimes it seemed that the only white, male role-model in the history curriculum was Adolf Hitler.

Our education system trashes the heritage of these boys. They never learn of the millions who died prematurely and horribly in the Industrial Revolution. Tens of thousands of bodies still lie buried in mines around the country. Men, women and children. For their descendants the cycle of poverty never stopped turning.

So if you really want to understand why working-class white boys are failing in childhood and adulthood, I will tell you. It is because our metropolitan elite doesn’t like them. And when people don’t like you, they are often nasty to you. Especially when they have a lot of stupid ideas to back them up.

The solutions are simple. Give these boys the same funding and support as others. Just as Black History Month has helped build self-esteem for black boys, let’s allow white boys to be proud of themselves and their history. And let’s give them the skills and values to achieve in life and in work.

Simon Marcus is a writer, political consultant and former government adviser.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


The Killgrave

27th January 2020 at 8:37 pm

The writer is waycist!

Keith Lloyd

22nd January 2020 at 9:37 pm

In my view (I am an English-heritage male in my seventies) our English culture and heritage have been deliberately destroyed. There is nothing in schools (I am a long-retired teacher) that teaches English boys – and girls, for that matter, about their wonderful history and culture as something to be very proud of. This is the biggest and very overwhelming example of racism in modern Britain. At the time of the riots early in this decade, David Starkey made the point on BBC (yes, they asked for his opinion) that white boys had adopted black culture. And so it has continued. That is why every white teen’s car blares rap through its windows. And they probably know that they are at the bottom of the multicultural pile.

Steve Roberts

22nd January 2020 at 5:18 pm

O.K. the Brexit fight revealed the elites in all their glory and bile in their attitude to mostly white working class folk, Identity Politics and the multiculturalism industry have had huge resources poured into their particular and yes divisive intersectionality frames. This is well documented and accepted not only among political commentators but the wider public too. But what exactly is Marcus trying to say here ?
Research and statistics are useful tools to substantiate an opinion ,it could be claimed they take opinion beyond an assertion and into the realm of evidence, but there are always at least two sides to any narrative.
Marcus includes a selection of statistics to end with what amounts to a claim that things would be much better for white working class boys on free school meals if they had the same resources available to them that minorities and girls have had in the past in an attempt to level the playing field in education primarily.
Equality of opportunity or more precisely its obvious and increasing lack of, is an age old issue primarily related to class. To reduce the extremely complex problems , not exclusive to, but especially in education to be one of just resources is frankly ridiculous.
Like the NHS there could be an exponential increase in educational funding that would be akin to pouring otherwise earned gains into a deep black hole incapable of producing a better outcome.
Marcus also seems to be making a shift towards his own intersectionality but i’m not sure which one, as we know this dividing up of ” identities” is never ending, what is the preference is it white, working class, boys or school meals ?
These issues of lack of opportunity in social/political/economic and cultural spheres are very complex and answers certainly not “simple” i think he would be better looking at the category of class and questioning what that means what relevance it has and how it is fundamentally different to identities.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 3:10 pm

I think you’ll find it is longer than ten years that white boys have been discriminated against, I think it’s more like two decades going back to the early nineties if not before. White male suicide is rife as MP Jess Phillips is aware of in between her bouts of laughing at it.
The fact that there is no blowback form poor whites such as riots in the streets says so much about just how decent and reserved the white male working class guy is even though they suffer great adversity from virtually every other corner of society.

Neil McCaughan

22nd January 2020 at 2:42 pm

It’s equally concerning that universities are overrun with females incapable of profiting from a tertiary education. The increasingly authoritarian and conformist tone of education, and the very high rates of reported mental illness among students are both both evidence that feminisation is a massive problem.

Gerard Barry

22nd January 2020 at 2:51 pm

And the feminisation continues on into the workplace (at least in certain sectors). Look at teaching ffs. I work in another field which is mostly female and boy is it stifling (to pick up on your correct use of the words “auithoritarian” and “conformist”).

Gerard Barry

22nd January 2020 at 1:37 pm

This is sad. What’s even worse is the fact that so many employers nowadays – especially in white collar jobs – are obsessed with the idea of hiring and promoting more and more women and people from ethnic minorities (because these groups are apparently so disadvantaged), while paying ZERO attention to socio-economic background.

Take the European Central Bank in Frankfurt: they are currently offering scholarships in economics to women only. These young women will more than likely already come from upper middle class backgrounds and yet the fucking ECB is giving them yet another leg up by offering them bursaries worth thousands of euros each year. A young white man on the other hand – no matter how disadvantaged his background – will get no leg up whatsoever. It’s outrageous.

Jonnie Henly

22nd January 2020 at 10:06 am

“They never learn of the millions who died prematurely and horribly in the Industrial Revolution. Tens of thousands of bodies still lie buried in mines around the country.”

Wouldn’t that also reach people that Britain is a bad country with a shameful past?

Michael Lynch

22nd January 2020 at 10:46 am

Can you name any country, or state that has ever existed, that is without a shameful past?

Gerard Barry

22nd January 2020 at 1:12 pm

No. It would teach them the hard life that their ancestors had, which might help them feel some pride in their own culture rather than constantly being told that they and their forebears are/were “privileged” on the basis of their skin colour.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 3:04 pm

Oh look little Jonnie the pedant has arrived..

Jim Lawrie

22nd January 2020 at 4:15 pm

I’ve never heard you mention those still living with the aftermath of industrial accidents and disease. Neither here nor in China. Nor the death toll for drivers and building trade workers right now. Like all leftists, you beatify the miners. Trapped down a pit – makes for good copy and drama. Tales of working class heroism with which you can indulge your romantic view of the good working class, how they used to be, before they got all educated and uppity.

Building trade deaths in China outnumber mining deaths by 12 to 1. With the former rising, and the latter falling.

Steve Roberts

22nd January 2020 at 5:30 pm

Jim Lawrie, i am not sure i have ever agreed with anything you have posted of substance previously but you are correct i think about this romanticisation and the purpose it serves for the so called “left” but you also ought to accept that it serves the purpose of all the elites too, now and historically.
It is patronisation at best, a means of showing one cares for the underdog etc, a means of control too.
As an ex mineworker , albeit a surface worker, i can write that most men working in dangerous heavy industries in particular do not want or need this false “caring” this emotional”compassion” its a bloody job that millions upon millions have returned to every day all their lives, its the same with the “heroic” police, fire ambulance etc, they are doing an important job, unsocial hours but its a job. Politicians stop the patronising it soon disappears when those same people declare their agency and demand social change AKA Brexit, then we all become something else entirely, demonic.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 5:47 pm

It’s an awful place, Jonnie!
So awful that folk who are already safe in France and elsewhere in the EU are willing to risk their lives in order to get here. Who is misguiding these unfortunates so that they want to end up in an awful place with a terrible history?
I think we should be told.
(Just for context, many of my antecedents worked in mining and similar hazardous jobs. They seem mostly to have been decent people, bringing up offspring in trying circumstances and hoping they’d do better than their parents. They died at work and in wars, so that we could live in a world where woke idiots undermine and give away all that their sacrifice earned. I’m sure they would not have been happy to have been dismissed with a cheery ‘shit happens’, given that they lived through the shit so we wouldn’t have to.)

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 6:36 pm

Little Jonnie.. foreigner, knows nothing about this great country .. that’s probably why he’s such a weedy sniper on this site

a watson

22nd January 2020 at 9:55 am

If you want to get on the Labour Party gravy train move to a strong Labour city to become a local councillor. Those on a low income cannot move around from area to area. That means competing with the local working class for nomination. Local working class men have been deliberately kept out of Labour politics to allow wanna be politicians to get a foothold. Local working class representation, say in London, would be an obstruction to advancement and to such things as planning permission for expensive housing. This has been happening for so long that prejudice against working class men is now institutionalised in parts of the Labour Party. AW shortlists increase the lack of representation and have had such serious consequences but do their job of keeping working class males out of parliament.

Iain Litenment

22nd January 2020 at 8:48 am

I have a feeling that giving the white WC boys more funding to be white WC boys will not undermine the backwardness of identity politics. It will be another competitor in the game fighting over the same meagre handouts. We have to get away from identity politics and argue for a forward looking approach that transcends people’s physical and cultural characteristics.

Chris A

22nd January 2020 at 2:22 pm

I have no idea what such an approach would be. To be interested in your ancestors is about the most natural thing, and the . Appreciation of high minded theory only follows on from appreciation of physical deeds. The sense of the sacred comes before the theology. Education is initiation into culture before it is criticism of it.

Stephen J

22nd January 2020 at 8:35 am

Nigel Farage is a not bad writer and in one of his autobiogs, he talks about Dulwich and its teachers.

He describes the time when he and his mates went on a cross country run and got bladdered in the pub instead, and the teacher laughed at the fact of their hangover, satisfied that “a lesson” had been learned.

Basically his point was that the school was not setting out to teach young Nige about the kings and queens, or the ports that deal in sugar or copper… No, they were trying to teach them some of life’s more useful subjects, like thinking or taking responsibility.

Anyway, he left school with a CSE at 16 and went to work. It does not seem difficult to lift their spirits, just give these kids some hope and some rope.

steve moxon

22nd January 2020 at 6:47 am

Relevant new paper: The falsity of Identity Politics (PC): Negative Attitude is SPECIFICALLY TO MALES and for Any Difference, in Policing Male Sexual Access by Gate-Keeping Group Membership. In the New Male Studies journal, 8(2). It’s available as a pre-print at Researchgate and Due out on the journal site very shortly.

steve moxon

22nd January 2020 at 6:51 am

The paper features a breakdown of the CPS’s ‘hate crime’ stats: they try to hide that the majority of whom they deem victims are male — and this despite massive male under-reporting.
No wonder they decline to have a meezodgenannynonny category!
The Law Commission’s ‘hate crime’ consultation later this year is going to be fun.

Steve Gray

22nd January 2020 at 1:56 am

How’s about side-stepping the whole group-wise approach, by opting for a class-wise one ? Class counts for more than skin-colour or culture.

Willie Penwright

22nd January 2020 at 10:41 am

That’s far too sensible. They could, however, use a colour-coded bar chart superimposed on the achievement graph so we could see the effect of skin shading. For example, the line where lighter skinned black boys dip below the upper range of the darker skinned white boys. There must be case studies available in the archives of the Republic of South Africa.

Jim Lawrie

22nd January 2020 at 3:22 pm

Tell boys who, because they are white, have been vilified and left on the margins by middle class, female teachers, that it is all about class. Tell them that they have just read it wrong. That the ethnic minority boys weren’t really favoured. Just a wrong impression.
That the rash of refugee scholarships and reserved places at universities do not discriminate against them. That the refugee child who they went to nursery school with and who has been here since aged three still deserves favourable treatment.

Tired old leftist theory does not fit with current practice. It is about race. And those boys have learned that the hard way. Have you ever spoken to any of them?

Gerard Barry

22nd January 2020 at 4:00 pm

Scholarships based on race, gender or immigration status are a fucking disgrace. Only academic ability and financial need should be considered.

Steve Gray

23rd January 2020 at 12:37 pm


Class isn’t as tired a concept as you might think. As for race, I suspect you may be a little obsessed by that, to the point of it being a bit of a hobby-horse for you.

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