Bread and board

Views on life's essentials

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In 1901, Seebohm Rowntree estimated that a family of a man, a women and two children needed earnings of 18 shillings and 10 pence a week to live on at a bare minimum, equivalent to roughly £100 in 2011 prices.

This covered only the very basics for mere “physical efficiency”: the minimum necessary for the maintenance of physical health when working at a moderate level of activity. He estimated that about 10% of the population of York +had earnings less than this level in 1899.

By the 1950s, Rowntree had updated his poverty line to include more basic human needs, such as the costs of travel to work or a daily newspaper. The weekly amount of money needed to meet all these needs for the family with two children was estimated at 110 shillings and one pence in 1953, equivalent to about £126 in 2011. 4% of the population of the UK lived on less than this amount.

Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation develops a minimum income standard based on what members of the public think people need to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living, including opinions on the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society. A couple with two children at primary school would need £514 per week after tax to achieve this minimum level. Even based on a poverty line that is generally much lower than this, 17% of people in the UK were estimated as being in poverty in 2009.

Bare minimums
This table shows how the definition of basic needs has changed over time.

This table shows how the definition of basic needs has changed over time

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