Living Standards of Working Households in Britain, 1904-60

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of History, Art History & Philosophy

Abstract

Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The first objective of this project was to re-estimate consistently the time-path and characteristics of extreme poverty in Britain during the first 60 years of the twentieth century. This required us to extract and analyse the data from all the surviving national household expenditure surveys, carried out during this period.

To this end we extracted the data from the Ministry of Labour 1937/8 and 1953/4 Household Expenditure Surveys. Both of these surveys were undertaken using stratified random sampling techniques, but only a small proportion of the 1937/8 survey is extant (623 from 10,800), whereas almost all (12,900) of the 1953/4 survey records survive. We demonstrate that the surviving records are a reasonably unbiased sample of the original 1937/8 survey. We used the data from these surveys, in conjunction with data we extracted from the Board of Trade 1904 household expenditure survey, and the 1961 Family Expenditure Survey.

Working with a minimum needs definition of poverty, we provide the first national estimates of poverty among working households in 1904. We find a widespread incidence of poverty (just over 20%), but a low depth of poverty, as most households in poverty were fairly close to the poverty line. Applying the same poverty line to the 1937/8 data, we show that this type of destitution had been almost completely eliminated (an incidence of about 3%). We estimate the decline in poverty 1904-38 is due to a reduction in household size and an increase in real earnings in roughly equal measure. We find a similar poverty incidence in 1953/4, due to an increased proportion of the elderly living alone. By 1961 we find a small increase in absolute poverty compared with 1953/4 and a doubling of relative poverty across the same dates. We trace these changes to the greater preponderance of elderly and retired households at the later date.


In addition, we investigated the nutritional characteristics of poverty and overcrowding among working households in the early surveys, when there was a high incidence of extreme poverty. We were able to map the regional pattern of overcrowding at the beginning of the 20th century and investigate the relationship between poverty, housing costs and food expenditures. Our work on nutrition has shown that in 1904, households were just able to meet their nutritional needs consistent with the physical activity implied by their labour market engagement. These needs would have been significantly greater than later in the 20th Century. However, we find significant shortfalls of key vitamins across the working-class income distribution, consistent with what is known of morbidity associated with poor nutrition. Using the 1904 and 1918 Board of Trade survey data, we also reinvestigated Beveridge's claim that rationing during the First World War, maintained calorie intakes. While we find this to be true, rationing also exacerbated an existing problem relating to a deficiency of key nutrients. We will also be publishing a re-investigation of Boyd Orr's claim of malnutrition in the late 1930s and a nutritional analysis of diets derived from the 1953/4 survey data.
Exploitation Route The findings of this project could be taken forward in two directions: firstly our empirical work could be extended and secondly the data sets could be used to help answer new questions. Among the extensions to our own research we can foresee work on the wider distribution of income: its geographic evolution in terms of the shifting North-South divide and on the distributional impacts of social policy and the Welfare State. On new uses of the data sets we think 1953/4 HES, being the largest and most comprehensive of the 20th Century has the greatest potential for future use. For example it provides data on food consumption in a period when processed foods formed a relatively small part of the diet. As such, it could provide a suitable baseline for research on the rise of obesity in the second half of the 20th Century. Also, the same data set contains unique information on individual donations to charities. These have not yet been analysed.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.sussex.ac.uk/britishlivingstandards
 
Description The history of twentieth century living standards is of interest to the wider community, but especially to secondary school age pupils studying the history curriculum. The British Living Standards project team, together with The National Archives, London, ran a teacher-scholar scheme in the autumn of 2012. This provided a number of history teachers from across the UK with the opportunity to engage with the project's findings, informing their teaching of British history in secondary schools. During a weekend study break the teachers were shown how to analyse the 1904, 1937/8 and 1953/4 household surveys alongside a variety of qualitative records, which often contain more detail about the experience of living in twentieth-century Britain. A separate weekend of fieldtrips allowed teachers to explore further questions about life for working families. Using the knowledge and skills developed during their time with the project team the teachers wrote a reflexive essay and created lesson plans that are now available from The National Archives education pages. The project website British Living Standards, provides access to all our documentation, the datasets and supporting code books, research papers, a series of downloadable contextual lectures and project news. Gazeley was Historical Consultant to 'Back in Time for the Weekend', a series produced by Wall 2 Wall productions for BBC2 and first shown in February -March 2016. This living history series used evidence from household expenditure surveys to chart the changing use of British leisure time, 1950-2000. The series made use of the digitised material from the 1953/4 household expenditure survey (including images of these returns). Viewing figures for early episodes were around 2.75 million.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title British Household Expenditure Surveys, 1904-1954 
Description This output is composed of the extant returns from three separate household expenditure surveys: the Board of Trade survey for 1904, the Ministry of Labour working class expenditure survey for 1937-8 and the Ministry of Labour household expenditure survey for 1953-4. See associated codebooks for further details. Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2013 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The databases are accompanied by detailed codebooks 
URL http://reshare.ukdataservice.ac.uk/850934/
 
Description Sussex teacher scholar scheme 
Organisation The National Archives
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Teachers will be delving into unexplored records of Britain?s domestic history to create their own original learning resources, thanks to a new collaboration between the University of Sussex and The National Archives. The Teacher Scholar Programme will give eight UK school teachers the opportunity to learn about the transition from poverty to affluence in Britain during the 20th century. Using the early government-administered household expenditure surveys they will explore how and why living standards increased and what it meant for ordinary households. The teachers will carry out their own research into living standards during autumn 2012 and work towards the creation of original learning resources with the assistance of Ben Walsh, history education trainer and author. Following approval by an editorial board, these resources will be published on The National Archives website. The teachers will attend a two-day workshop run by historians and economists from the University of Sussex and record specialists from The National Archives, and will carry out further collaborative work on a study tour of the houses and streets of Liverpool and Manchester.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Workshop on Household Budgets & Historical Living Standards,Clio-infra, Amsterdam 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Dutch Clio-infra/Clariah project organized a small workshop, where experts from all over the world discussed which household Budget datasets they are building, and how they approach the methodological issued raised by the use of historic household budget material
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Family finance : experts' analysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Andrew Newell and Dr Ian Gazeley tell Sally Williams how living standards in Britain have changed in the past forty years.

The Daily Telegraph
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/6972960/Family-finance-experts-analysis.html
 
Description Further Back in Time for Dinner, BBC2 series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gazeley acted as Historical Consultant on this 6-part BBC2 series, screened in early 2017. The storyline utilised data from the household surveys digitised as part of the award
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Ian Gazeley Historical Consultant 'Back in Time for the Weekend' BBC2 (series) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My role was Historical Consultant to this series. 'Back in Time for the Weekend' is a living history program produced by Wall 2 Wall Productions for BBC2 that examines the life of a family from the 1950s to 2000 using the records of Household Expenditure Surveys to inform the description of the changes in leisure time during the second half of the twentieth century. I supplied them with images of some of the records from the household surveys digitised as part of British Living Standards Project and advised on the selection of records that would help tell a coherent story..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Teacher-Scholar scheme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact In the autumn of 2013, over a six week period, in collaboration with the Education Department of The National Archives, we ran a Teacher Scholar scheme for the professional development of secondary school history teachers, using household expenditure enquiry data from the British Living Standards project. The lessons plans they produced using this material are downloadable from the TNA Education Department website (Professional Development)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/teachers/professional-development/project-resources/sus...