Attitudes to necessities 2012 questionnaire: overview

The Necessities of Life questionnaire examines the public’s perceptions of what are necessities and the importance, or otherwise, attached to services. In this questionnaire, respondents are asked to say which of a range of items and activities they feel are necessities and which might be desirable but are not necessary. Items and activities for adults and, separately, those for children are covered. You can take part in the online version on this website. The questionnaire also asks whether people see a range of local services as essential or not. You can download the questionnaire below.

The Necessities of Life questionnaire needed to ensure comparability with past surveys, while at the same time updating the survey to include changes since the last PSE survey in 1999 in the kinds of items people have and the activities they take part in. The questionnaire also set out to cover a wider spectrum of living standards than past surveys. A detailed literature review was undertaken and key questions identified to ensure comparability with key UK government and EU measures. Fourteen focus groups covering interviews with 114 members of the UK general public were undertaken to investigate participants’ understandings of the ‘necessities of life’ (see Public Perceptions of Poverty, Social Exclusion and Living Standards: Preliminary Report on Focus Group Findings by Eldin Fahmy, Simon Pemberton and Eileen Sutton and Public Perceptions of Poverty and Social Exclusion: Final Report on Focus Group Findings by Eldin Fahmy, Simon Pemberton and Eileen Sutton).

As a result of these considerations, some questions were dropped (such as CD player) and others introduced. New questions include:

  • all recommended dental work
  • hair done or cut regularly
  • table, with chairs, at which family can eat
  • taking part in sport/exercise activities or classes
  • to be able to pay an unexpected expense of £500

The ‘Necessities of Life’ survey was carried out between May and June 2012 and is based on a sample of 1,447 adults aged 16 or over in the Britain and 1,015 in Northern Ireland. The survey was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) in Britain and by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) in Northern Ireland as part of their Omnibus surveys. In addition, in Northern Ireland the Necessities of Life survey was also carried out in February 2011,again as part of a wider Omnibus survey. This survey was based on random sample of 1,276 adults aged 16 plus.

In the 2011 survey, shuffle cards were used to randomise the question order for the items and activities being considered by the respondents. In the 2012 survey, the sample was randomly split so that for half the question order was randomised using shuffle cards and for half the question was randomised using a personal digital assistant (PDA) on which the respondents entered their answers. This will enable the different survey techniques to be compared and allow the 2002/3 Northern Ireland survey results (which, unlike the previous PSE surveys, used the PDA system rather than the shuffle card system) to be accurately compared with the more recent surveys. It will also enable an investigation into whether attitudes to necessities change over a short time period.

The questions on attitudes to public services in the Necessities of Life survey were also asked as part of an Omnibus survey in Britain, in February 2011. This will enable comparisons with the same questions in the 2012 survey to be undertaken and will provide an important indicator of whether public attitudes change during a time of cut backs to services.

The Necessities of life questionnaire covers:

  • Party identification/voting intentions
  • Necessities for adults relating to items covering housing, household goods, food, clothing, personal goods, insurance and savings
  • Necessities for adults relating to activities, social and leisure
  • Necessities for children relating to housing, food, clothing, personal goods and games, and pocket money
  • Necessities for children, relating to activities, social and leisure
  • Attitudes to local services.

The survey uses shuffle cards. Each card has one item or one activity for an adult or a child to be considered as to whether it is a necessity. The cards are shuffled by the interviewer prior to being given to the respondent to ensure that the order in which respondents consider the cards is different for each respondent. For the necessities for adults, respondents are asked:

On these cards are a number of different items which relate to our standard of living. I would like you to indicate the living standards you feel all adults should have in Britain today by placing the cards in the appropriate box. BOX A is for items which you think are necessary – which all adults should be able to afford and which they should not have to do without. BOX B is for items which may be desirable but are not necessary.

For children, respondents are asked to do the same, this time thinking of children.

For services, respondents were shown a card with the services listed and were asked:

On this card are a number of services which are usually provided or subsidised by local councils or other public bodies. Please could you tell me if you think that these services are essential and should be available?

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