Breadline Britain 1983: Findings

Applying the Breadline Britain 1983 survey’s findings to the population as a whole, and grouping the necessities together into specific aspects of life, in 1983:

  • approximately 3 million people in Britain could not afford to heat the living areas of their home
  • around 6 million went without some essential aspect of clothing – such as a warm waterproof coat – because of lack of money
  • some 1.5 million children did without toys or, for older children, leisure and sports equipment because their parents did not have enough money
  • nearly 3.5 million people did not have consumer durables such as carpets, a washing machine or a fridge because of lack of money
  • around 3 million people could not afford celebrations at Christmas or presents for the family once a year
  • at least 5.5 million people could not afford basic items of food such as meat or fish every other day, a roast joint once a week or two hot meals a day
  • nearly half a million children did not have three meals a day because their parents were so short of money.

The public’s perception of necessities

The survey established, for the first time ever, that a majority of people in Britain in the 1980s saw the necessities of life as covering a wide range of goods and activities, and that people judged a minimum standard of living on socially established criteria and not on just the criteria of survival or subsistence.

The table below, The public’s perception of necessities in 1983, lists the thirty-five items that were tested, ranked by the proportion of respondents identifying each item as a ‘necessity’. These findings show that there was very widespread agreement about the importance of core basic conditions in the home and that there was a considerable degree of consensus about the importance of a wide range of other goods and activities. Overall, the items considered by a majority of the population to be necessities clearly reflects the standards of that time and not those of the past.


Further analyses of the views of different groups found a high degree of consensus across all social groups as to what items should be seen as necessities.

Further findings

The Breadline Britain 1983 questionnaire gives top level results for all questions. A short pamphlet written by Joanna Mack and Stewart Lansley to accompany the television series, Breadline Britain 1983, provides a summary of the results of the 1983 survey. Joanna Mack and Stewart Lansley wrote up the full results of the survey and developed the consensual method for measuring poverty in Poor Britain (1985). Mack and Lansley have given permission for the PSE team to provide, for the first time, Poor Britain as downloadable files.