Poverty, participation and choice: the legacy of Peter Townsend - report

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Emanuele Ferragina, Mark Tomlinson and Robert Walker

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Peter Townsend, the famous British sociologist who died in 2009, demonstrated that poverty prevents people being full members of society. This new publication explores the relevance of Townsend's ideas in the 21st century.
It found that:
Participation in society can be measured in terms of social relationships, membership of organisations, trust in other people, ownership of possessions and purchase of services. All are lower among people with low incomes.
While participation generally drops as income declines, participation stops falling among the 30 per cent or so of people with the lowest incomes, creating a participation 'floor'.
The 30 per cent of people with the lowest incomes are forced to choose between the basic necessities of modern life; they must decide which needs to neglect.
For people affected by the floor, additional income may well be spent on upgrading the quality of necessary goods and services rather than adding to them.
Averages mask important variation. The participation floor for benefit recipients is lower than for other groups on the same income.
Most minority ethnic groups experience greater material deprivation than the white majority but social participation is, on average, higher.
Children's engagement in school life and friends is not directly affected by household income.
However, parents on low incomes, on average, play less often with their children and spend less on activities. This is associated with poorer educational outcomes as judged by teachers.
Low income parents frequently spend more time than affluent ones assisting children with their school work because they have fallen behind their classmates.


Social Exclusion, Poverty, Ethnic Groups and Social Capital