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.

The public’s perception of necessities in 1983

Rank Standard of living items in rank order % classing item as necessity Note
1 Heating to warm living areas of the home if it’s cold 97
2 Indoor toilet (not shared with another household) 96
3 Damp-free home 96
4 Bath (not shared with another household) 94
5 Beds for everyone in the household 94
6 Public transport for one’s needs 88
7 A warm water-proof coat 87
8 Three meals a day for children 82 For families with children only
9 Self-contained accommodation 79
10 Two pairs of all-weather shoes 78
11 Enough bedrooms for every child over 10 of different sex to have his/her own 77 For families with children only
12 Refrigerator 77
13 Toys for children 71 For families with children only
14 Carpets in living rooms and bedrooms 70
15 Celebrations on special occasions such as Christmas 69
16 A roast meat joint or its equivalent once a week 67
17 A washing machine 67
18 New, not second-hand, clothes 64
19 A hobby or leisure activity 64
20 Two hot meals a day (for adults) 64
21 Meat or fish every other day 63
22 Presents for friends or family once a year 63
23 A holiday away from home for one week a year, not with relatives 63
24 Leisure equipment for children e.g. sports equipment or a bicycle 57 For families with children only
25 A garden 55
26 A television 51
27 A ‘best outfit’ for special occasions 48
28 A telephone 43
29 An outing for children once a week 40 For families with children only
30 A dressing gown 38
31 Children’s friends round for tea/a snack once a fortnight 37 For families with children only
32 A night out once a fortnight (adults) 36
33 Friends/family round for a meal once a month 32
34 A car 22
35 A packet of cigarettes every other day 14
Average of all 35 items = 64.1%

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.

Tweet this page