Townsend Research Archive

The Townsend archive provides open access to a range of original documents underlying the 1968/69 Poverty in the UK survey led by Peter Townsend.  This survey pioneered the application of relative deprivation  in measuring poverty and Townsend’s subsequent book, published in 1979, laid the groundwork for contemporary understandings of poverty.

The archive includes all of the surviving questionnaires from the survey, over 2,500 in total. On these questionnaires you will find hand-written notes made, at the time of the interview, by the survey field workers.  They provide telling details of the living standards and attitudes of that time. The archive also covers a range of other papers associated with the administration and conception of the survey and notes and drafts of Townsend’s book.

You can download Townsend’s ‘Poverty in the United Kingdom’ book here.

In this section you will also find video interviews with a range of people involved in, or associated with, the Poverty in the UK survey, reflecting back on this landmark project. These interviews provide unparalleled insights into survey and research methods then and now, the relationship between social policy research and policy making across the last 45 years, and the impact, or otherwise, of research on tackling poverty.

‘I think the significance [of the Poverty in the UK study] was that it reinforced very strongly the need to think broadly about poverty and that you had to think in relative terms, and ... and that’s had huge implications.’

David Piauchaud, Professor Social Policy, LSE.

Subsequent poverty surveys have developed and adapted the methods used in the Poverty in the UK survey. Most particularly, the Breadline Britain 1983 and 1990 surveys, the Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain 1999 survey and the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK 2012 survey have been built on this original work to develop what is now known as the ‘consensual method’.

This archive is a product of the ESRC-funded ‘Poverty in the UK: Advancing paradata and open access’ research project.

Exploring this section

The ‘paradata research project’

While the findings and methodology of the Townsend survey have been much debated, the actual process of conducting the survey has been less studied. The ESRC-funded ‘Poverty in the UK: Advancing paradata and open access’ project set out to provide a deeper understanding of the survey methods used in the 1960s examine this process and to examine how the collection of household survey data on poverty has changed.  

Details of this research, which was led by Professor Ros Edwards of the University of Southampton, can be found in the left hand menu under ‘Paradata research project’ .

The research also analysed the marginal notes made by the fieldworkers on the 1968/69 survey questionnaires. Examples of the range of types of marginal notes can be found in Marginal Notes on the questionnaires.

The digitised documents

As part of the ‘Poverty in the UK: Advancing paradata and open access’ project the Townsend survey questionnaire booklets and a range of other papers associated with the administration and conception of the survey were digitised in order to create an open access resource of the original documents from the Poverty in the UK survey.

You can search through pdfs of all the existing questionnaires in The 1968/69 survey questionnaires.

A wide range of other documents, including correspondence, chapter drafts and research notes, can be found in Original notes and documents from the Poverty in the UK study.

The video interviews

Seventeen video interviews with those involved in, or connected to, the 1968/69 Poverty in the UK survey were conducted as part of the research project. In ‘The video interviews – and overview’ you’ll find details of those interviewed.

The video interviews are in the process of being uploaded on to the website and will be accessible through the left hand menu. You can currently watch interviews with:

Professor Hilary Land

Professor David Donnison and Steve Winyard

Professor John Bond and Professor Alan Walker

Professor David Piachaud and Frank Field



The materials in this archive are provided under Creative Commons License. The ‘Townsend archive‘ should be credited for the use of any materials from the original documents and the ‘Poverty in the UK paradata project’ should be credited for quotes or extracts from the video interviews.

Townsend archive section author:  Joanna Mack, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol and Visiting Fellow, The Open University.

First posted, October, 2016


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