Research on UK poverty

The 1968-69 study Household Resources and Standards of Living in the United Kingdom was the first national study of poverty carried out since the 1948 foundation of the welfare state. It provided a groundbreaking theoretical approach that still informs poverty studies today - not only in Britain, but around the world.

Rather than merely measuring poverty in terms of income, the study used what people in society themselves regarded as necessities for inclusion in everyday life - showing that the introduction of the welfare state had not ended poverty.

This research was reported in Peter Townsend’s influential book Poverty in the United Kingdom (1979), where he outlined a 'relative deprivation approach' to poverty covering a wide range of material and social aspects of living standards. He found that there were levels of income below which consumption and participation fell well below what might be seen as normal or acceptable in an increasingly affluent society, and argued that this group should be seen to be in poverty.

According to Townsend's definition, "individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities, and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong".

This approach has been refined in the intervening years, but still provides a basic, rigorous and reliable way of researching poverty.