Breadline Britain 1990: overview

The Breadline Britain 1990 survey was a modified repeat of the pioneering Breadline Britain 1983 survey. The survey was again seeking to establish what the public thought were minimum standards to which everyone was entitled, and who fell below these standards. The survey formed the basis of the ITV series, Breadline Britain 1990s, which was transmitted in April 1991. Domino Films, who produced the series for ITV, commissioned the survey organisation MORI to conduct the survey. A representative sample of 1,319 adults throughout Britain was asked about their views on what constituted an unacceptably low standard of living and their own standard of living.

Most of the items tested provided a direct comparison with the 1983 survey, though some additional items were added and some wordings changed to allow for new technology and changing customs. The 1990 survey confirmed that there was a high degree of consensus across all groups as to what items should be seen as necessities. Most significantly, the survey found that within even the relatively brief period of time since the 1983 survey, minimum standards had risen with rising prosperity. In particular, there were four items that qualified as necessities in 1990 which failed to reach the 50 per cent acceptance level in 1983: a phone, a best outfit, outings for children and children’s friend round for tea. The upward trend in living standards in the 1980s had led to higher expectations of what people should be entitled to expect.

More significantly, the 1990 survey found that since 1983 there had been a rise in the numbers in poverty. Replicating the statistical analysis done in 1983, the 1990 survey found that 20 per cent of households (nearly 11 million people) lived in poverty in 1990, a rise of nearly 50 per cent over 1983, when 14 per cent of households (7.5 million people) lived in poverty. Britain during the 1980s had become a more unequal society and the poor had not shared in the rising prosperity of the country. As a consequence, their standards of living were increasingly not meeting the minimum standards set by society.

The Breadline Britain 1990 survey was developed by Joanna Mack (series editor, Breadline Britain 1990s), Stewart Lansley (producer/director, Breadline Britain 1990s), Brian Gosschalk (MORI) and Harold Frayman (Domino Films). The survey made three important methodological developments over the 1983 study.

  1. The list of items was extended to include a number of luxury goods, such as an annual holiday abroad. The aim of this was to allow further investigation to be made between the poor and the non-poor by enabling an examination of wider spending patterns.
  2. The survey explored the adequacy of provision of public services and the quality of the environment in which respondents lived. One of the criticisms of the 1983 survey had been that by focusing on individual and household deprivation, the survey had overlooked the important contribution that public services make to the quality of people’s lives. The 1990 study responded by examining the perceived importance, adequacy and usage of a range of public services. The survey found that large majorities of the respondents thought that all the services were essential, with the exception of museums and galleries where 52 per cent thought them to be essential. The survey also found that the more deprived groups made greater use of the bus service and school meals and services targeted at elderly and disabled people (home help, meals on wheels and special transport). Local services under siege (PSE: UK Analysis Working Paper No. 2) analyses trends from the 1990 survey to the PSE: UK survey on local services in 2011.
  3. The survey included a booster sample of people living in deprived urban areas in order to be able to analyse the findings of particular demographic sub-groups in more detail than the national sample would permit. The survey found that those living in inner city areas faced marked higher levels of environmental, housing, material, health and employment deprivation. In terms of their housing, twice as many (17 per cent) described the condition of their home as poor compared to the national average (8 per cent). More than one in three (37 per cent) said there were houses boarded up or with broken windows nearby, more than twice the national average of 16 per cent. Three in five said they felt poor all the time (20 per cent) or sometimes (40 per cent).

The Breadline Britain 1990 questionnaire gives top level results for all questions. A short pamphlet written by Harold Frayman (Domino Films) to accompany the television series, Breadline Britain – 1990s, provides a summary of the results of the 1990 survey. The findings were presented in a paper by Harold Frayman and Brian Gosschalk to the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (see The Changing Nature of Deprivation in Britain, Frayman and Gosschalk, The 44th ESOMAR Marketing Research Congress, Luxembourg, 1991). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation provided additional funding to enable the 1990 survey to be fully analysed and compared with the 1983 survey. This analysis and comparison was undertaken by David Gordon (University of Bristol) and colleagues, and published as Breadline Britain in the 1990s (Gordon & Pantazis, 1997).

Comparisons between the results of this survey and the Breadline Britain1983 survey, the PSE Britain 1999 survey and the current PSE: UK 2012 survey can be found under UK trends. Breadline Britain 1990 Findings provides a short summary of key results. In the coming months we plan to put more data from this research study onto the website.

Survey details

The 1990 Breadline Britain survey took place in July 1990 and covered a quota sample of 1,319 adults aged 16 and over, face-to-face in their homes. Additional fieldwork among households living in particularly deprived areas was carried    out between 25 November and 9 December 1990, with 512 quota interviews conducted face-to-face in home.    Quotas were based on sex, age and working status. Aggregated data was weighted by age, household type, tenure and ACORN    housing type to be representative of the population of Great Britain. The survey was conducted by MORI. See Appendix 1 of Breadline Britain in the 1990s for further details.