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Poverty in Britain in 1904: An Early Social Survey Rediscovered


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  • Gazeley, Ian

    (University of Sussex)

  • Newell, Andrew T.

    (University of Sussex)


Until now there have been no national estimates of the extent of poverty in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. This paper introduces a newly-discovered household budget data set for the early 1900s. These data are more representative of urban working households in Britain in the period than any other existing record, although they are not without deficiencies. We use these data to estimate urban poverty in the British Isles in 1904. Applying Bowley’s poverty line we find that about fifteen percent of people in urban working class households had income insufficient to meet minimum needs. This is close to Rowntree’s estimate of primary poverty for York 1899 and in the range that Bowley found in Northern towns in 1912-3. This average masks a heavy concentration of poverty among the unskilled and those with large families.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3046.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as 'Poverty in Edwardian Britain' in: Economic History Review, 2011, 64 (1), 52 - 71
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3046

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Keywords: 1904; Britain; poverty;

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  1. Lancaster, Geoffrey & Ray, Ranjan, 2002. "International Poverty Comparisons on Unit Record Data of Developing and Developed Countries," Australian Economic Papers, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 129-39, June.
  2. Ian Gazeley, 1989. "The cost of living for urban workers in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, Economic History Society, vol. 42(2), pages 207-221, 05.
  3. Bailey, Roy E & Hatton, Timothy J., 1999. "Seebohm Rowntree and the Post-War Poverty Puzzle," CEPR Discussion Papers, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers 2147, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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Cited by:
  1. Timothy J. Hatton & Richard M. Martin, 2009. "Fertility Decline and the Heights of Children in Britain, 1886-1938," CEPR Discussion Papers, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University 613, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  2. Gazeley, Ian & Newell, Andrew T., 2009. "No Room to Live: Urban Overcrowding in Edwardian Britain," IZA Discussion Papers 4209, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).


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