The working class is fast disappearing in Britain, according to research into public attitudes.

Only a quarter of the population now identify themselves as working class, and pride in their social position is turning to bitterness as manual workers feel themselves squeezed between benefit claimants, immigrants and the expanding middle class.

The BritainThinks survey paints an alarming picture of a group that feels disenfranchised, isolated and threatened on all sides.

When asked to identify their social class, only 24 per cent of people chose to say working class, compared with 67 per cent in the late 1980s.

Many people who are struggling financially now choose not to call themselves working class. And those who do are torn between celebrating the dignity of labour and feeling that the term now simply means "poor".

The report used focus groups in Rotherham and Basildon to probe the attitudes of the modern working class.

It concludes that most working-class people feel under siege, "brought down by the workshy underclass and undercut by immigrants". They feel a residual pride in being working class, but this is often seen as something in the past.

"Working class used to be a choice - work with your hands, do an honest day's work, be unpretentious, play football. Now working class tends to just mean poor," the report's authors say.

Old assumptions about working-class solidarity no longer apply. The survey finds that the middle classes are more likely to feel part of a community, and that working-class respondents are more likely to feel lonely, unhappy and pessimistic.

Most of the groups were pessimistic about achieving the standard of living of the middle class.