Conclusions of Seebohm Rowntree’s Second Study

Conclusions of Seebohm Rowntree’s Second Study

In 1936 Seebohm Rowntree conducted his second study into poverty and lifestyles in York, which was published in 1941. The conclusions he came to were:

“So far this chapter has been concerned with a comparison of economic and social conditions in York to-day with those at the close of last century, and we have seen how greatly the workers’ standard of living has improved in spite of the fact that the period under review has included four years of devastating warfare in which millions of British citizens were engaged. The economic condition of the workers is better by 30 per cent than in 1899, though working hours are shorter. Housing is immeasurably better, health is better, education is better. Cheap means of transport, the provision of public libraries and cheap books, the wireless, the cinema and other places of entertainment, have placed within the reach of everyone forms of recreation unknown, and some of them unthought of, forty years ago.

It is gratifying that so much progress has been achieved, but if instead of looking backward we look forward, then we see how far the standard of living of many workers falls short of any standard which would be regarded, even for the time being, as a satisfactory. Great though the progress made during the last forty years has been, there is no cause for satisfaction in the fact that in a country so rich as England, over 30 per cent of the workers in a typical provincial city should have incomes so small that it is beyond their means to live even at the stringently economical level adopted as a minimum in this survey, nor in the fact that almost half the children of working-class parents spend the first five years of their lives in poverty and that almost a third of them live below the poverty line for ten years or more.

We have examined the causes of poverty. Every one is capable of remedy without dislocating industry or our national finances. They can be removed just as the slums, once thought to be inevitable, are being removed to-day.

But we must not rest content with raising to a higher level the physical standard of those who are living in poverty.

The survey we have made of the ways in which people spend their leisure reminds us how much greater to-day than in the past is the temptation to seek fullness of life by indulging too largely in forms of recreation which make no demands of physical, mental or spiritual powers. At the same time the influence of the Churches is weaker than at any time in the memory of those now living.

To raise the material standard of those in poverty may prove difficult, but to raise the mental and spiritual life of the whole nation to a markedly higher level will be an infinitely harder task, yet on its accomplishment depends the lasting greatness of the State.

Everywhere democracy is challenged. A totalitarian State does not demand high intellectual or spiritual standards from its people; on the contrary it can only function successfully when they cease to think for themselves and are willing to obey the command to worship false gods. But a democratic State can only flourish if the level of intelligence of the community is high and its spiritual life dynamic.”

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