Booth and Rowntree

Charles Booth
Charles Booth

Two important figures emerged at the turn of the century.

Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree were interested in the levels of poverty in Britain.

They both sponsored major investigations into the extent and causes of poverty.

Charles Booth

  • Booth conducted research in London, between 1886 and 1903.
  • He produced a report entitled Life and Labour of the People in London.
  • After carrying out interviews with the poor, doctors, teachers and priests, he came to the conclusion that 30 per cent of people in London lived in poverty.
  • His findings proved that the poor were not to blame for their condition.

The video below examines poor housing in London in the 1880s.

Seebohm Rowntree

  • Seebohm Rowntree was a member of the wealthy Rowntree's sweets family.
  • Rowntree conducted research in York between 1899 and 1901.
  • He produced a report entitled Poverty, A Study of Town Life.
  • He reached the conclusion that 30 per cent of people in York lived in poverty and that they needed to earn 21 shillings per week to stay out of poverty. If they earned less than this, they were living below the ‘Poverty Line’.
  • He claimed that people could not help being poor and that large families helped to cause poverty.

The video below looks at Seebohm Rowntree's report.

Booth and Rowntree's findings agreed on two key points:

  • Up to 30 per cent of the population of the cities were living on or below the Poverty Line.
  • People could not pull themselves out of poverty by themselves.

Booth and Rowntree both identified the main causes of poverty as being illness, unemployment and age. Both the very young and the old were most at risk of poverty.

The video below gives an introduction to poverty in early 20th century Britain.