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The Poor and the Poorest fifty years on

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The 1953/4 expenditure survey is the largest of the twentieth century (12,911 households) and was based on a two-stage stratified random sample. It was carried out at an important point when the rationing and controls associated with the Second World War, and the period of austerity that followed, were coming to an end, but before the affluence of the Golden Age had been widely distributed. Thus, the 1953/4 survey acts as a natural benchmark for comparison with earlier and later investigations. In their seminal study, The Poor and the Poorest (1965), Abel-Smith and Townsend used a sample from this survey to investigate the extent and causes of poverty in Britain. Contrary to popular belief at the time, they found that the Welfare State reforms of 1945-51 had not eliminated poverty, which they claimed was still prevalent among the elderly and in working households with more than four children. Their conclusions were hugely influential in setting the social policy agenda of the 1960s. The original household returns for this survey are extant and Gazeley and Newell have digitised these as part of an ESRC funded project of Living Standards of Working Households, 1904-60 (RES-062-23-2054)…Abel-Smith and Townsend used a 25 percent sample of the lowest per capita income groups from this survey for their analysis presented in The Poor and the Poorest (1965). We are able to re-evaluate their findings on income poverty using the entire sample and consider their results in relation to other indicators and measures of poverty. Having access to the full survey for all the income groups enables us to carry out a fuller assessment of the economic circumstances of working households than was possible in the early 1960s.

This talk is part of the Economic and Social History Seminars series.

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