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Poverty In Britain In 1904: An Early Social Survey Rediscovered

  • Ian Gazeley


  • Andrew Newell


    (Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, Department of Economics, 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 that is more representative of urban working households in Britain in the period than any other existing record, although not without deficiencies. We use these data to estimate urban poverty among working families 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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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Sussex in its series Working Paper Series with number 38.

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Length: 29
Date of creation: Jul 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:pru:wpaper:38
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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, vol. 41(2), pages 129-39, June.
  2. Bailey, Roy E & Hatton, Timothy J., 1999. "Seebohm Rowntree and the Post-War Poverty Puzzle," CEPR Discussion Papers 2147, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Ian Gazeley, 1989. "The cost of living for urban workers in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 42(2), pages 207-221, 05.
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