The Economic History Review

Poverty in Edwardian Britain

Volume 64 Issue 1
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Published online: January 4, 2011DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00523.x

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This article introduces a newly discovered household budget data set for 1904. We use these data to estimate urban poverty among working families in the British Isles. Applying Bowley’s poverty line, we estimate that at least 23 per cent of people in urban working households and 18 per cent of working households had income insufficient to meet minimum needs. This is well above Rowntree’s estimate of primary poverty for York in 1899 and high in the range that Bowley found in northern towns in 1912-13. The skill gradient of poverty is steep; for instance, among labourers’ households, the poverty rates are close to 50 per cent. Measures of the depth of poverty are relatively low in the data, suggesting that most poor male-headed working households were close to meeting Bowley’s new standard.