Rowntree A-Z

Poverty in York

Seebohm Rowntree showed that 27.8% of the people in York were living below the poverty line in 1900. Of these 9.91% lived in primary poverty, and 17.78% in secondary poverty. He showed further that poverty was a cycle, and that the poor were not necessarily to blame for their conditions of poverty.

Seebohm’s description of poverty

Seebohm Rowntree defined ‘absolute poverty’, or what he called ‘merely physical efficiency’, thus: ‘A family living upon the scale allowed for in this estimate must never spend a penny on railway fare or omnibus. They must never go to the country unless they walk. They must never purchase a halfpenny newspaper or spend a penny to buy a ticket for a popular concert.

They must never contribute anything to their church or chapel, or give any help to a neighbour which costs them money. They cannot save, nor can they join sick club of Trade Union, because they cannot pay the necessary subscriptions. The children must have not pocket money for dolls, marbles, or sweets. The fathers must smoke no tobacco, and must drink no beer. The mother must never buy any pretty clothes for herself or for her children, the character of the family wardrobe as for the family diet governed by regulation, ‘nothing must be bought but that which is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of physical health, and what is bought must be of the plainest and most economical description.’ Should a child fall ill, it must be attended by the parish doctor; should it die it must be buried by the parish. Finally the wage earner must never be absent from his work for a single day. If any of these conditions are broken, the extra expenditure involved is met, and can only be met, by limiting the diet; or, in other words, by sacrificing physical efficiency.’


B Seebohm Rowntree Poverty A Study of Town Life, Centennial Edition, (reprinted edition) Bristol: Policy Press 2000, pp. 133-134.

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