PSE Britain 1999: Findings

The PSE 1999 survey found that the rise in poverty between 1983 and 1990 had continued through the 1990s, though at a slower rate. In 1983 14 per cent of households lacked three or more necessities because they could not afford them. That proportion had increased to 21 per cent by 1990 and to over 24 per cent by 1999. Items defined as necessities, as for the 1983 and 1990 study, were those that more than 50 per cent of the population believed ‘all adults should be able to afford and which they should not have to do without’. This rise in poverty occurred while the majority of the British population became richer. But while poverty appears to have become more widespread during the 1990s, it did not seem to have deepened. Between 1990 and 1999 the proportion of households living in chronic long-term poverty (lacking three or more necessities and classifying themselves as genuinely poor now ‘all the time’ and also having lived in poverty in the past either ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’) fell, from 4 per cent of households to 2.5 per cent of households.

Using statistical analyses to identify the point which best distinguishes between ‘poor’ and ‘not poor’ households, the PSE 1999 survey found that, unlike the previous surveys where it had fallen at three or more necessities, this time it fell at those who could not afford two or more necessities (see Past UK research). Carrying out further statistical analysis on this group, the study proceeded to exclude those who, though lacking, had higher levels of income. Using this ‘combined’ measure of having both low income and multiple deprivation, the PSE 1999 survey found that by the end of 1999 a quarter (25 per cent) of the British population was living in poverty. In addition, the survey found one in six people (17 per cent) considered themselves and their families to be living in ‘absolute poverty’, as defined by the United Nations.

Applying the PSE 1999 survey’s findings to the population as a whole, and grouping the necessities together into specific aspects of life, in Britain in 1999:

  • roughly 9.5 million people could not afford adequate housing conditions
  • about 8 million could not afford one or more essential household goods
  • almost 7.5 million people were too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population
  • about 2 million children went without at least two things they needed
  • about 6.5 million adults went without essential clothing
  • around 4 million were not properly fed by today's standards
  • over 10.5 million suffered from financial insecurity.

The full results of the percentage of respondents who considered an item a necessity and the percentage who could not afford it can be seen in the table below, Perception of adult necessities and how many people lack them. A number of the items that at least three-quarters of people considered necessary could not be afforded by well over 5 per cent of households and a number of items seen as a necessity by between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of the population could not be afforded by even higher percentages, in the case of 'regular savings (of £10 a month)' by 25 per cent of the population.

Perception of adult necessities and how many people lack them

Item Omnibus survey: Items considered Necessary Omnibus survey: Items considered not necessary Main stage survey: Items that respondents don't have, don't want Main stage survey: Items that respondents don't have, can't afford
Beds and bedding for everyone 95 4 0.2 1
Heating to warm living areas of the home 94 5 0.4 1
Damp-free home 93 6 3 6
Visiting friends or family in hospital 92 7 8 3
Two meals a day 91 9 3 1
Medicines prescribed by doctor 90 9 5 1
Refrigerator 89 11 1 0.1
Fresh fruit and vegetables daily 86 13 7 4
Warm, waterproof coat 85 14 2 4
Replace or repair broken electrical goods 85 14 6 12
Visits to friends or family 84 15 3 2
Celebrations on special occasions such as Christmas 83 16 2 2
Money to keep home in a decent state of decoration 82 17 2 14
Visits to school, e.g. sports day 81 17 33 2
Attending weddings, funerals 80 19 3 3
Meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every other day 79 19 4 3
Insurance of contents of dwelling 79 20 5 8
Hobby or leisure activity 78 20 12 7
Washing machine 76 22 3 1
Collect children from school 75 23 36 2
Telephone 71 28 1 1
Appropriate clothes for job interviews 69 28 13 4
Deep freezer/fridge freezer 68 30 3 2
Carpets in living rooms and bedrooms 67 31 2 3
Regular savings (of £10 per month) for rainy days or retirement 66 32 7 25
Two pairs of all-weather shoes 64 34 4 5
Friends or family round for a meal 64 34 10 6
A small amount of money to spend on self weekly not on family 59 39 3 13
Television 56 43 1 1
Roast joint/vegetarian equivalent once a week 56 41 11 3
Presents for friends/family once a year 56 42 1 3
A holiday away from home once a year not with relatives 55 43 14 18
Replace worn-out furniture 54 43 6 12
Dictionary 53 44 6 5
An outfit for social occasions 51 46 4 4
New, not second-hand, clothes 48 49 4 5
Attending place of worship 42 55 65 1
Car 38 59 12 10
Coach/train fares to visit friends/family quarterly 38 58 49 16
An evening out once a fortnight 37 56 22 15
Dressing gown 34 63 12 6
Having a daily newspaper 30 66 37 4
A meal in a restaurant/pub monthly 26 71 20 18
Microwave oven 23 73 16 3
Tumble dryer 20 75 33 7
Going to the pub once a fortnight 20 76 42 10
Video cassette recorder 19 78 7 2
Holidays abroad once a year 19 77 25 27
CD player 12 84 19 7
Home computer 11 85 42 15
Dishwasher 7 88 57 11
Mobile phone 7 88 48 7
Access to the internet 6 89 54 16
Satellite television 5 90 56 7


Social exclusion

The PSE 1999 study pioneered various measures of social exclusion, in particular in relation to service exclusion and exclusion from social relations.  

Service exclusion

In Britain in 1999:

  • more than one in twenty people had been disconnected from water, gas, electricity or telephone, and over one in ten had used less than they needed because of cost
  • about one in fourteen were excluded from four or more of a list of essential public and private services, and nearly one in four from two or more because the services were either unaffordable or unavailable
  • non-availability of services (‘collective exclusion’) was a bigger barrier than non-affordability (‘individual exclusion’)
  • only about half the population had access to the full range of services.

Exclusion from social relations

In Britain in 1999:

  • of a list of common social activities, one in ten people in the survey were excluded by cost from five or more activities, and one in five from three or more
  • lack of time due to caring responsibilities, to paid work and to disability also excluded people from socially necessary activities
  • one in eight had neither a family member nor a friend outside their household with whom they were in contact on a daily basis
  • economic inactivity and living in a jobless household did not necessarily increase social isolation and, in some cases, reduced it
  • men living alone had a high risk of social isolation
  • nearly 11 per cent of the population had very poor personal support available in times of need and a further 12 per cent had poor support
  • one in ten of the population had no civic engagement at all.

Further findings

The Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain 1999 home page at Bristol University provides details of this research. The full report Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain by Gordon et al. was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2000. The survey’s findings were written up in Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain (2006), edited by Christina Pantazis, David Gordon and Ruth Levitas. Policy Press have given permission for downloads of Chapter 2, ‘The concept and measurement of poverty’ by David Gordon and Chapter 5, ‘The concept and measurement of social exclusion’ by Ruth Levitas (Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, 2006, Pantazis et al.).

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