A study of town life: Living standards in the City of York 100 years after Rowntree

Meg Huby, Jonathan Bradshaw and Anne Corden

Poverty: A study of town life, Seebohm Rowntree’s famous study of York in 1899, found that a substantial minority of the population were living below a minimum subsistence income.

Rowntree claimed that the conditions of life in York were not exceptional and were fairly representative. This new study of life in York, undertaken to mark the centenary of Rowntree’s original study, concludes that the same is still true. In terms of most of the key determinants of living standards, York is extraordinarily close to the national average.

The study is based on the analysis of Census and administrative statistics, a sample survey of residents and interviews with key informants. A comprehensive picture of York as it is today is revealed. Using ward by ward analysis, the authors find that behind the façade of the heritage city, there is poverty, insecurity, mental stress, family strain and a poor quality of life for many people. As well as low wages, unemployment and dependence on benefits, there is ill health, homelessness, debt, drug and alcohol misuse, crime, isolation, personal and family insecurity and breakdown in relationships. This study which details the problems faced by a considerable proportion of the residents of this 'average' provincial city, will be of interest to all those faced with challenges similar to those posed in York.