Although it has been slowly improving since the end of WW2 (ONS, 2017), the UK is one of the worst performing nations in Europe regarding social and economic inequality (Eurostat, 2017). This project aims to explore how this inequality manifests itself in our society and culture and to challenge the systems that mean our poorest stay poor and our richest get richer.
It will examine the idea that class in the UK is not simply defined by your level of income but by a myriad of factors including where you live, who your parents are, who you interact with and your level of cultural capital. These are all things heavily influenced by income and wealth but are also cyclically tied to your social position at birth. People born to poorer parents are more likely to live in poorer areas of the country, socialising with people in a similar economic position to themselves and getting an education that is largely dictated by the wealth of the area.
At the other end of the spectrum, wealthier parents are more likely to interact with high status individuals, giving their children a network of connections they can use as they enter the working world. These parents are also more likely to send their children to high quality, exclusive private schools where in addition to developing their network, their children will learn to look, speak and act like a member of the elite.
Through a set of physical coins designed after representations of class in Britain as well as a coded, digital interaction, the project will set out to challenge perceptions of class in our country in addition to revealing the barriers to social mobility that prevent people from moving up the socio-economic ladder and contributing to the UK's status as one of the most unequal nations in Europe.
Wider Context
The UK today is one of Europe's worst nations regarding economic inequality (Eurostat, 2018) which manifests itself in the unequal distribution of wealth across our society. In almost all regards, economic inequality directly leads to lower quality of life, affecting areas such as educational attainment, drug and alcohol addiction and even homicide rates. Furthermore, studies show that it is internal inequality - how much richer the top 20 percent of a country is than the bottom 20 percent and not the wealth of a country that leads this decline (Wilkinson, 2011). Inequality in the UK is marked not only by a significant difference in income but by a cultural divide in lifestyle and a stark social divide between networks of people. In other words, Britain is still a strongly class-based society.
Class in the UK has had fluctuating definitions over the years but the 'Great British Class Survey' conducted by the BBC in 2013 sought to redefine definitions of class and to determine how our population fits into these new groups (Savage et al, 2013). The study aimed to explore how the country is divided in terms of our cultural tastes and social links because in many ways these have replaced economic capital as a marker of class. Of course, wealth is as congruent with power as ever, but talking about the right things, in the right way, to the right people are key techniques required to advance up the ladder. One significant finding of the study was the extent of the 'social polarisation' within our society with classes spread further apart than ever - less by money than by culture and socialisation. This project will aim to explore these divides and investigate the barriers to climbing the social ladder - In other words, social mobility.
Specific Context
This project aims to explore issues surrounding class, inequality and the factors affecting social mobility within our society. In this case, social mobility refers to an individual's ability to further themselves socially and economically in relation to their peers and their perceived class (OECD, 2018). This could constitute economic improvements such as promotions or pay rises but it could also refer to increased social status through education, socialisation and professionalisation. Social mobility can be measured intergenerationally by comparing children to their parents but it is important to look at how an individual can improve their social position over a single lifetime. According to the Sutton Trust, one of the UK's leading social mobility charities, "if you're born to a well-off family, you are more than 2.5 times as likely to end up wealthy yourself" (Blanden & Machin, 2007). People born to wealth and power are consistently afforded more opportunities through access to things like high status networks, private schooling and increased economic freedom whilst the poorest members of our society are consistently fighting an uphill battle where systematic issues in education, the economy and a prejudiced job market impede mobility at all stages of life. Rich parents are also more likely to have time to spend imbuing their children with a level of cultural capital that gives them a huge head start on their peers. By the age of 3, Children of professionals have a vocabulary 50% larger than those born to working class families (Blankstein, 2011).
The project will examine education as a factor influencing class and social mobility and will explore the impact of an unequal system of education on our nation's youth. Higher quality education consistently leads to higher earnings as well as increased social status throughout adulthood. Many of our nation's richest are therefore being afforded unfair opportunities through their access to private schools which offer higher quality education in an exclusive environment. These institutions not only sustain the cycle of inequality and privilege but facilitate networks of wealthy individuals making up the elite establishment of our country. According to the Sutton Trust, "Britain's most influential people are over 5 times more likely to have been to private school" (Elitist Britain, 2019). However, it is not simply private schools that are the issue; A different Sutton Trust investigation determined that "higher performing comprehensive schools take in half the number of poorer pupils than the average school" (Selective Comprehensives, 2017). Recent legislation has encouraged schools to become extremely selective towards students from wealthier backgrounds. This system only serves to reinforce the idea that poor pupils are destined to go to worse schools, achieve worse grades and continue to be poor.
The Work
The work for this project exists in two stages, the 'pocket provocation' and the interaction. The pocket provocation consists of four coins designed and rendered using 3D software as a digital mock-up of a set of metal cast coins. The coins are designed to represent different classes of 'rich' and 'poor' people and the illustrations on them are of famous figures that represent that class as well as items or concepts evocative of them (for example Prince Charles and Fox Hunting). The coins are designed to be physically produced and distributed for use as part of the interactive 'slot machine'.
The interactive design element for this project is a coded, GUI based 'slot machine' game, made as a digital interpretation of a proposed physical interaction. Using the coins developed as the pocket provocation, the user is invited to simulate the experience of a 'rich' or a 'poor' person through the metaphor of a slot machine. At the beginning of the experience, the user is prompted to choose between rich and poor and from then on is restricted to that class's coins. By clicking one of the coin buttons at the top of the interface, the user 'inserts' it into the machine, adding that coin's value to the user's bank. Once the user has inserted their desired amount of coins, they can place a bet on the outcome of the slot machine, using the money in their bank. After the user clicks on the 'spin' lever, the slots in the middle will spin until the user clicks 'stop'. The slots are set to a random arrangement when they begin spinning and spin at different rates meaning that the system's output is mostly random while allowing for a small amount of skill. When the user presses stop, the program determines what images are currently being displayed and if the user has earned a prize. It then displays a message to the user, explaining the output and calculating their prize. The user can then cash out from the game, returning their prize to the bank or continue playing for larger rewards. At any point, the user can click a button to open a 'shop' window where they can spend their earnings on various imaginary prizes such as a family home, meals for a week or a sports car.
The Practice
The idea for the pocket provocation coins came from an aim to produce a tactile product that could serve a purpose while communicating a message. The coin concept contextualises the project within an established, vernacular area of British culture and society. By referencing currency, the coins simultaneously conjure representations of the monarchy and the establishment as well as their day to day usage - buying a Twix at a corner shop or a pint at the pub. There is an inherent contrast here that echoes the contrast between classes in society. The project was informed by similar endeavours such as 'the people's pound' campaign by Poundland in 2017 as well as 'the pay gap pound' by advertising agency Mr President - both of which replicate and distort currency as a medium for expressing a political message. There is an intriguing variability to the design of coins that works effectively for this type of project. Although the visual style used across our currency is instantly recognisable, many coins such as the 50p commonly issue variant editions with artwork on one side celebrating historical events or cultural icons. As a result. the consistent visual language of our currency effectively serves as a frame for the message embedded within the coin.

The final slot machine interaction was coded using Python which is the reason for its stripped-down visual style but the digital medium allows it to be informed by video games which for decades have used interactions to express a political message. Lucas Pope's games 'Paper's please' and 'The Republia Times' are extremely effective in their use of a reduced visual style and a simplistic gameplay loop to express political messages about authoritarianism, morality and censorship (NPR, 2013). The interactive component makes the player painfully complicit in their actions and adds an intense level of personality to the experience, concentrating their political message (Parkin, 2013). By making the user of the slot machine choose to insert rich or poor coins, they are encouraged to step into the shoes of that person, becoming more empathetic towards them in the process.

The interaction attempts to communicate the concepts of risk and safety by forcing players to repeatedly bet their savings in the hopes that they will get lucky. For the rich players, this is often trivial with losses of tens of thousands barely affecting them but for the poor players, the risk is much more palpable. If they want to attempt to improve their position, they are putting that very position on the line. This is all an analogy for our society in which rich people can rarely have to take genuine economic risks whilst poor people are forced to live paycheck to paycheck, often worrying about making rent or feeding their children. Many of our nation's poorest simply cannot afford to climb the social ladder for the inherent risk involved. Through the game's shop function, the monetary amounts are contextualised within the real world demonstrating that a loss of thousands of pounds for a wealthy person might mean that they can't buy a new car but it also would mean a poorer person might not afford to eat. By depicting the socio-economic ladder through the abstracted and exaggerated lens of the slot machine, the interactive provocation implores people to think critically about the privileges they have been afforded that might not have been afforded to others.
This project aimed to explore inequality in the UK through a number of lenses. Economic inequality in the vast income gap between the wealthy and the poor, social inequality that divides our classes and social circles and cultural inequality that marks and identifies class. Economically, the UK is one of the most unequal nations in Europe and the BBC's class survey has demonstrated that we are as socially divided as ever. The project examined these different facets of inequality to investigate social mobility - the ability of individuals born within one class to move up the socio-economic ladder.
Through a series of physical coins based around perceptions of class, the project aimed to challenge inequality as well as our perceptions towards our social position. It encourages people to re-evaluate the privileges we might have been offered as a result of our circumstances such as geographical location, parental status and quality of education and consider the fact that other people might not have been offered the same advantages. Through an interactive, digital slot machine game, the project contextualises class privilege and makes people empathize with those born to different circumstances. It uses an extremely simple gameplay loop to communicate complex themes of risk and privilege within society.

Given more time and more favourable working conditions, the project would have been realised physically in the form of an in person interactive experience to awareness of the concepts behind social mobility and encouraging people to think critically about their privileges. It would have involved a more expansive, multifaceted experience that would have made attempted to simulate social mobility as a more in-depth experience.
Office For National Statistics (ONS), (2017) Household disposable income and inequality in the UK: financial year ending 2016, Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householddisposableincomeandinequality/financialyearending2016#gradual-decline-in-income-inequality-over-the-last-decade

European Union statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC). (Updated 2020, data from 2018). Gini coefficient of equivalised disposable income, Retrieved from https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do

TED. (2011, July). Richard Wilkinson: How inequality harms societies? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson_how_economic_inequality_harms_societies?language=en

Inman, P. (2020, May 7), The Guardian, Number of people in poverty in working families hits record high, retrieved from. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/07/uk-live-poverty-charity-joseph-rowntree-foundation

Savage, M. Devine, F. Cunningham, N. Taylor, M. Li, Y. Hjellbrekke, J. Le Roux, B. Friedman, S. Miles, A. (2013) A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC's Great British Class Survey Experiment, Published in 'Sociology', Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0038038513481128

Equality Trust (2013), Social Mobility and education, Retrieved from https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/social-mobility-and-education

OECD (2018) A broken social elevator? How to promote social mobility. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/Social-Mobility-2018-PolicyBrief.pdf

Blanden. J & Machin. S, (2007), Sutton Trust, Recent Changes in Intergenerational Mobility in Britain. Retrieved from https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/intergenerationalmobilityinukfull-1.pdf

Sutton Trust (2019), Elitist Britain 2019 Retrieved from https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Elitist-Britain-2019.pdf

Culliane. C, Hillary. J, Andrade. J, McNamara. S, (2017), Sutton Trust, Selective Comprehensives 2017. Retrieved from https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Selective-Comprehensives-2017.pdf

Blankstein. A, Houston. P (2011, Jan) Leadership for Social Justice and Democracy in Our Schools p.175, US, Corwin Press

Wouter Zwysen (2015), University of Essex, Breaking down the barriers to social mobility, Retrieved from https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/blog/2015/03/19/breaking-down-the-barriers-to-social-mobility

Poundland (2017), The People's Pound Revealed, Retrieved from https://www.poundland.co.uk/great-ideas/press-release/the-peoples-pound-revealed/

Snoad. L(2019), It'sNiceThat, Mr President mints fake pound coins worth 82p to highlight equal pay day, retrieved from https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/mr-president-shesays-the-pay-gap-pound-advertising-141119

Tiffany. K (2019), Vox, What exactly is the point of Amazon's Treasure Truck? Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/5/28/18637760/amazon-treasure-truck-new-york-discounts

Mullis. S (2013), NPR, Papers Please: A game That Puts your Sympathy To The Test, retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/11/10/244413539/papers-please-puts-your-loyalty-sympathy-to-the-test?t=1589326386805

Parkin. S (2013), New Yorker, How Evil should a video game allow you to be?, retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/how-evil-should-a-video-game-allow-you-to-be

This site was made on Tilda — a website builder that helps to create a website without any code
Create a website