Breadline Britain 1990: Findings

Applying the Breadline Britain 1990 survey’s findings to the population as a whole, and grouping the necessities together into specific aspects of life, in 1990:

  • roughly 10 million people in Britain could not afford adequate housing: for example, their home was unheated, damp or the older children had to share bedrooms
  • about 7 million people went without essential clothing – such as a warm waterproof coat – because of lack of money
  • there were approximately 2½ million children who were forced to go without one the things they needed, like three meals a day, toys, or out of school activities
  • around 5 million people were not properly fed by today’s standards – they didn’t have enough fresh fruit and veg, or two meals a day, for example
  • about 6½ million people could not afford one or more essential household goods, like a fridge, a phone, or carpets for living areas
  • at least one of the necessities which made life worth living – hobbies, holidays, celebrations, etc. – were too expensive for about 21 million people
  • more than 31 million people – over half the population – lived without minimal financial security: they said they could not save £10 a month, or insure the contents of their homes, or both.

Lacking the necessities

During the 1980s the living standards of the poor did rise but not as fast as the rest of the population. Minimum standards set by the population as a whole rose along with the general rise in living standards. As a result more people were below the minimum standards set in the 1990 survey than were in the 1983 survey: 20 per cent of households in 1990 as opposed to 14 per cent in 1983.

The table below shows the percentage lacking each item because they cannot afford it in 1990 compared to 1983. The items are ordered by the percentage of people thinking the item is a necessity in 1990: the highest percentage is at the top of the list and the lowest is at the bottom. The top section of the table shows items that more than 50 per cent of the population in 1990 considered to be necessities and, as indicated by the subheading, the bottom section shows items not seen to be necessities (starting with ‘dressing gown’). While overall, for most necessities, there had been a fall in the percentage lacking the item, more items had come to be seen as necessities. These new necessities were a telephone; a ‘best outfit’ for special occasions; an outing for children once a week; and children's friends round for tea/snack fortnightly.

Percentage lacking items because they can’t afford it: 1990 and 1983

Items seen as necessities in 1990 1990 1983 Change Note
% % % +/-
A damp-free home 2 7 -5
An inside toilet (not shared with another household) <0.5 2 -2
Heating to warm living areas of the home if it is cold 3 5 -2
Beds for everyone in the household 1 1 0
Bath, not shared with another household <0.5 2 -2
A decent state of decoration in the home 15 Not included in the 1983 survey
Fridge 1 2 -1
Warm waterproof coat 4 7 -3
Three meals a day for children <0.5 2 -2 For families with children
Two meals a day (for adults) 1 3 -2 Two hot meals in the 1983 survey
Insurance 10 Not included in the 1983 survey
Fresh fruit 6 Not included in the 1983 survey
Toys for children e.g. dolls or models 2 2 0 For families with children
Separate bedrooms for every child over 10 of different sexes 7 3 4 For families with children
Carpets in living rooms and bedrooms in the home 2 2 0
Meat or fish or vegetarian equivalent every other day 4 8 -4 Vegetarian option added in 1990
Celebrations on special occasions such as Christmas 4 4 0
Two pairs of all-weather shoes 5 9 -4
Washing machine 4 6 -2
Presents for friends or family once a year 5 5 0
Out of school activities, e.g. sports, orchestra, Scouts 10 For families with children - not included in the 1983 survey
Regular savings of £10 a month for 'rainy days' or retirement 30 Not included in the 1983 survey
Hobby or leisure activity 7 7 0
New, not second-hand clothes 4 6 -2
A roast joint or its vegetarian equivalent once a week 6 7 -1 Vegetarian option added in 1990
Leisure equipment for children e.g. sports equipment or bicycle 6 6 0 For families with children
A television 1 <0.5 1
Telephone 7 11 -4 Not necessity in 1983
An annual week's holiday away, not with relatives 20 21 -1
A 'best outfit' for special occasions 8 10 -2 Not necessity in 1983
An outing for children once a week 14 9 5 For families with children, not necessity in 1983
Children's friends round for tea/snack fortnightly 8 5 3 For families with children, not necessity in 1983
Items not seen as necessities in 1990
A dressing gown 2 3 -1
A night out fortnightly 14 17 -3
Fares to visit friends in other parts of the country 4 times a year 19 Not included in the 1983 survey
Special lessons such as music, dance or sport 20 For families with children - not included in the 1983 survey
Friends/family for a meal monthly 10 11 -1
A car 18 22 -4
Pack of cigarettes every other day 5 6 -1
Restaurant meal monthly 22 Not included in the 1983 survey
Holidays abroad annually 32 Not included in the 1983 survey
A video 10 Not included in the 1983 survey
A home computer 16 Not included in the 1983 survey
A dishwasher 18 Not included in the 1983 survey

Further findings

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)

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