‘The Rise of Mass Poverty’? Breadline Britain/Poverty and Social Exclusion (1983–2012) Evidence Revisited

Andrew Dunn, Clare Saunders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mack and Lansley’s consensual deprivation method determines poverty rates based on the proportions unable to afford possessions or activities that are deemed to be necessities by at least 50% of survey respondents. Using the method, Breadline Britain/Poverty and Social Exclusion studies found that Britain’s poverty rate increased steadily from 14% (in 1983) to 30% (in 2012), despite noticeable stability in what the surveys’ respondents regarded as necessities. This article contends that the poverty rise was fuelled by changes over time to the list of potential necessities put to respondents. An analysis of only potential necessities voted on in all available surveys (1983, 1999 and 2012) and newly invented items, using Mack and Lansley’s preferred poverty measure, found the poverty rate fell by more than half between 1983 and 2012; similarly, when various other measures were used, the 1983 result was nearly always the worst. In showing how different methodological choices produce different results, the findings point to the need for further debate about possible refinements to the consensual deprivation method. Our suggestions include standardising the procedure for developing lists of potential necessities so that findings from different times and places are more comparable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-946
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


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