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Unfinished business: Peter Townsend's project for minimum income standards

Christopher Deeming (School of Geographical Sciences, Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 26 July 2011




Peter Townsend is one of the greatest social scientists of the twentieth century and best known for his pioneering research into poverty. This paper aims to revisit Townsend's early work discussing the measurement of poverty and attempts to operationalise his ideas for determining minimum income standards for healthy living.


The article is based upon a secondary analysis of data taken from the UK Expenditure and Food Survey, a continuous cross‐sectional survey of household income, expenditure, and food consumption. Here, the sample has been restricted to an older population and the authors observe the relationship between household income and a healthy standard of living (indicated by diet) for people aged 60 years and over.


Minimum income requirements for healthy living, for this population in the UK, are 37 per cent greater than the British state pension for single pensioners and 37 per cent for pensioner couples. It is also appreciably greater than the official minimum income safety net (after means testing), the pension credit guarantee.

Practical implications

Objective evidence‐based assessment of living standards are practicable but do not presently provide a basis for social policy in the UK or elsewhere apparently. Such assessment could provide a credible basis for helping to establish minimum income standards in official policy.


Recent developments in the design of a British social survey have made it possible to operationalise Townsend's ideas for establishing minimum income standards over half a century after he proposed them.



Deeming, C. (2011), "Unfinished business: Peter Townsend's project for minimum income standards", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 31 No. 7/8, pp. 505-516.



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