The changing nature of deprivation in Britain

Date of publication: June 15, 1991


This paper analyses the findings of a survey evaluating Ihe nature and exlent of poverty in Britain, and compares them with the results of a similar survey conducted in 1983. It provides readers wilh insight into social change under the premiership of Mrs. Thalcher, based on an original survey methodology. In February 1983 Market & Opinion Research international (MORI) conducted the first explicit national survey of poverty for fifteen years, as the basis of the award-winning television series lireaiiline Britain, made by London Weekend Television (LWT). This survey developed the pioneering approach of Professor Peter Townsend, which argued that poverty is a relative phenomenon which is most appropriately measured by variations in living standards and styles. The two significant developments made in the Breadline Britain survey incorporated the first attempt to reflect the public’s own criteria by evaluating which items - from a wide-ranging list covering diet, heating, household amenities, social activities, and clothing - the British public consider to be necessities to which everyone, regardless of economic status, should be entitled. Second, it differed from Townsend’s work by distinguishing taste from deprivation per se. In 1990 the survey was updated. This new survey formed the backbone of a series of television programmes entitled Breadline Britain 1990s. transmitted in April and May 1991. There were three important methodological developments in the 1990 study. First, the list of items was extended, to include a number of luxury goods. Second, the survey explored the adequacy of provision of public services, and the quality of the environment in which respondents live. Third, we included a booster sample of people living in deprived urban areas in order to be able to analyse the findings of particular demographic sub-groups in more detail than the national sample would permit. The findings reveal a high level of agreement about minimum living standards across all sections of the community, and that the upward trend in living standards in the 1980s has led to higher expectations of what people should be entitled to expect. The survey also establishes the extent of deprivation in Britain today. In a country with 55 million people some 7 million go without essential clothing, while around 10 million cannot afford adequate housing, due to financial hardship. One person in five lacks three or more of the items which most people consider necessities. The paper describes how the findings have been publicised and have fed in to the debate on the inner cities, and concludes by showing how survey research can play a valuable role in the field of social policy.

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