Researchers in the Townsend Centre have been at the forefront of efforts to develop scientific definitions and measures of poverty that are meaningful and effective in both the industrialised and developing world. If poverty cannot be measured accurately, it cannot easily be eradicated.
Peter Townsend invented the relative deprivation theory of poverty which placed the definition and measurement of poverty on an international scientific basis, i.e. poverty is defined as those people whose resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities. A considerable amount of the Centre's work has been concerned with refining and developing this theory and also with defining and operationalising new and developing poverty-related concepts such as Social Exclusion. The meaning of 'social exclusion' in both the UK and European context and the implications of this for measurement and for policies to combat it has been clarified by the associated theoretical and practical work of Professor Ruth Levitas. The Centre is an ackowledged leader in the field of these theoretical and practical areas of research.
Recent and ongoing work into absolute poverty by researchers in the Townsend Centre uses the human rights framework to develop a deprivation index measuring access to seven basic needs:
If the household or individual does not have access to a particular basic need, they are defined as 'deprived'. Those who are deprived of two or more of the seven basic need indicators are defined as being in 'absolute poverty'.
This method of measuring absolute poverty and deprivation was used in a major research project for the UNICEF. Visit the Child Poverty page to read more.
During his time as a Visiting Fellow to the Townsend Centre, Menachem Monnickendam, a senior lecturer from Bar Ilan University, worked on the evoluation of poverty measurement in Israel from 1931 to 2004. He describes the history of budget-standard and income-threshold measurements as well as their influence on poverty in Israel, and draws conclusions on the role of policy practitioners.
Visiting Fellow Professor Julio Boltvinik from El Colegio de Mexico presented his lecture on 'A new approach to poverty and human flourishing' at the School for Policy Studies on the 23rd of May 2005. You can access the lecture slides and text using the links below.
A look at how the geographical distribution of poor and wealthy people in Britain has changed in the last 40 years.
Very little academic research has been done to record the geography of wealth in Britain. The authors of this study argue that in order to understand social inequality it is crucial to understand what is happening to those people and households that are not poor.
They have developed four consistent measures of poor and wealthy households, and, along with households that are ‘average’, i.e. neither poor nor wealthy, they have recorded the numbers of each group at points in time across the last 40 years.
The study finds that Britain is moving back towards levels of inequality in wealth and poverty last seen more than 40 years ago, and that rich and poor are living further apart.
Researchers in the Townsend Centre have focussed on:
See the Health Inequalities page to find out more.
When the International Decade for the Eradication of Poverty was declared by the United Nations in 1997, UNESCO approached the International Social Science Council to request that an Glossary on Poverty be developed to help policy makers understand the range of definitions as well as scientific and theoretical concepts of poverty that were in use around the world. The Townsend Centre was given a lead role in both editing and contributing to this work and eight of its members were involved, along with academics from 12 countries (Australia, Egypt, France, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and USA).
In March 1999, the Pope was officially presented with a copy of The International Glossary on Poverty by Professor Else Řyen (University of Bergen), the President of the International Social Science Council. This presentation was made to illustrate the international social science communities contribution to helping to end poverty in the 21st Century.
The International Glossary on Poverty has been published in Bangkok, Cape Town and Dhaka as well as in the UK and USA. A Spanish Edition for South America is currently in preparation in collaboration with CROP the Comparative Research Program On Poverty based in Norway.
Using three different data sets to estimate deprivation and social exclusion in Great Britain, the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey of Britain 1999 was undertaken by members of the Townsend Poverty Centre and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The survey is an update of the two Breadline Britain Surveys and uses a powerful scientific methodology to measuring poverty and social exclusion at a national level which is internationally comparable. Visit the Poverty and Social Exclusion website to read the summary findings, technical reports and working papers.
Townsend Centre members have also been actively involved in developing measures of poverty and deprivation in small areas:
East Sussex has used the Breadline Britain Index as a basis for resource allocation within the authority: read more.
The Fuel Poverty Indicator (FPI), developed by Professor David Gordon, Dr Eldin Fahmy and Dr Demi Patsios in conjunction with the Bristol charity, Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), was launched at the Department of Trade and Industry in May 2007. More information on the FPI can be found here or at the website.