January 2014

IZA DP No. 7909: The Poor and the Poorest, Fifty Years On

Published in The Journal of The Royal Statistical Society, 2017, 180 (2), 455–474.

We re-explore Able-Smith and Townsend's landmark study of poverty in early post WW2 Britain. They found a large increase in poverty between 1953-4 and 1960, a period of relatively strong economic growth. Our re-examination is a first exploitation of the newly-digitised Board of Trade Household Expenditure Survey data set for 1953/4. Able-Smith and Townsend used only a small part of this data source. We find that Able-Smith and Townsend substantially over-estimated the rise in absolute poverty and also substantially under-estimated the rise in relative poverty. Their and our findings on poverty reflect a large rise inequality in the distribution of expenditure among British households. This rise is related to a rise in the preponderance of pensioner households, who, for instance, account for all the poor households in the 1961 Family Expenditure survey.