ABSTRACT

Booth's survey of London was eventually complemented by Seebohm Rowntree's survey of York, published in 1901. Rowntree came to similar conclusions about the extent of poverty, but showed greater sophistication in fixing the poverty line. The revelations of Booth and Rowntree undermined the old assumptions that individual poverty was usually the result of character weakness. Booth still accepted that a substantial proportion of those in distress must be weak or vicious; but he argued that it was their circumstances, and especially unemployment, which had most often degraded them. Rowntree made the striking discovery that half the working men of York who suffered primary poverty were 'in regular work but at low wages'; there was no blameworthy idleness in such cases. One household in every six or seven in primary poverty had fallen into distress because of the death of the chief wage-earner, which was again not a cause for blame. Rowntree emphasized that though many unskilled workers lacked ideas they did not lack sound moral qualities. Poverty, he concluded, was in large part 'the result of false social and economic conditions'.