British Living Standards



The following 5 lectures were provided to teacher-scholars during the autumn of 2012.

Lecture 1: The Dawn of Affluence: Economic and Social Context, 1880-1960

In this lecture Prof. Ian Gazeley provides an overview of the transformation of British Living Standards from the late Victorian period until the 1960s. This was a period during which real average earnings increased substantially, providing more discretionary income for leisure time and the new consumer products that became available during the interwar period. By the 1940s the social safety net provided by the state became universal, supporting those previously excluded from the benefits of material progress.

L-01-Slides [PPT 195.00KB]




Lecture 2: Surveys and social investigation – a history

This lecture provides a brief history of social investigation and surveys in Britain, from the start of the modern period to the 1960s. Dr Sam Shave outlines the first attempts to collect statistical information from the population, such as the census. She then goes on to detail the growing number of studies of poverty - by the government, organisations and individuals - from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The work of two individual investigators, labelled as 'pioneers', namely Booth and Rowntree, had a significant impact on understandings of poverty and provided new methodologies for how it could be detected. Sam finishes the lecture by outlining a pivotal period of time in the mid-twentieth century, herald as the 'rediscovery of poverty'. The rediscovery was led by two academics who, using extracts from the 1953/4 Household Expenditure Survey, exposed a more widespread and disturbing level of poverty than had previously been estimated, and which the welfare state had meant to address. This rediscovery had many short and long-term implications which still have an impact on people today.

L-02-Slides [PPT 1.25MB]




Lecture 3: Introduction to the Living Standards Surveys

In this lecture Dr. Rebecca Searle introduces the 3 key living standards surveys which the BLS team used to create datasets used by the teacher-scholars to create their own learning resources. The 3 surveys are:

  • The 1904 Board of Trade Survey.
  • The 1937/8 Ministry of Labour Survey.
  • The 1953/4 Household Expenditure Enquiry.

Rebecca explains the context and origins of these surveys, describes how they were carried out and outlines the information that was gathered.

L-03-Slides [PPT 49.01MB]




Lecture 4: Living Standards – understanding, measuring and analysing

In this section Andrew Newell outlines the evolution of the techniques of living standards measurement. Next, there is a discussion of the various ways survey analysts have tried to capture living standards from the results of surveys. The last few topics are about the key adjustments that are made to income and expenditure data in order to make them comparable between households.

L-04-Slides [PPT 554.00KB]




Lecture 5: Local Case Studies and Everyday Life

One of the ways in which you can use the living standards surveys is to extract a dataset relating to a particular area. In this lecture Dr. Rebecca Searle discusses some of the different approaches to locally-based studies and identifies some of the sources and archives that are available. Taking Brighton as a case study, Rebecca explores how local histories can be used to think about changing patterns of everyday life across the twentieth century and how such studies can challenge popular understandings of the past. Rebecca uses the oportunity to interview Dr. Benjamin Jones, Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of East Anglia.

L-05-Slides [PPT 43.42MB]