Seebohm Rowntree and the measurement of poverty, 1899-1951

Harris, Bernard; Bradshaw, Jonathan and Sainsbury, Roy, eds. (2000) Seebohm Rowntree and the measurement of poverty, 1899-1951. In: Getting the Measure of Poverty: The Early Legacy of Seebohm Rowntree. Studies in Cash & Care . Ashgate, Farnham, pp. 60-84. ISBN 9780754612896

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In 1986 John Veit-Wilson launched a fierce attack on what he regarded as the misrepresentation of Seebohm Rowntree’s original conception of the meaning of poverty. He argued that Rowntree’s critics had labelled him unfairly as the architect of an ‘absolute’ conception of poverty, and that Rowntree’s own conception of poverty was far more ‘relative’ than his critics allowed (Veit-Wilson 1986a). This view has rapidly assumed the status of a new orthodoxy. When David Englander and Rosemary O’Day reprinted Veit-Wilson’s essay in 1995, they explained that ‘Veit-Wilson’s contribution shows that Rowntree’s early views and methods have been widely misunderstood ... and ... necessitates a reconsideration of Rowntree’s position, which would show Townsend’s achievement as a paradigmatic shift ... from relativistic models based on standards prescribed by expert observers to relativistic models based on standards derived from the whole population by social surveys (Englander and O’Day 1995: 36).