Archives par mot-clé : Deutschland

“Modern” poverty measurement in Britain and Germany

Across Europe and elsewhere – though notably not in America – standard methods of measuring poverty is employed in contemporary official statistics. These include Eurostat’s poverty statistics, but also national statistical publications like the UK’s Households Below Average Income and the Armutsberichte in Germany. Rather than the cross-national comparative dimension of official statistics that Anne and I wrote about in a previous post, during a stay in London in July 2015 I’ve been researching the history of such poverty measures within British national official statistics from 1975 to 1995.

Estimates of poverty produced by the Child Poverty Action Group in 1986
Estimates of poverty produced by the Child Poverty Action Group in 1986, using official estimates from the DHSS series “Low Income Families”. From a press release archived in a DHSS folder.

Archival material1 and interviews show how the contemporary form of official poverty statistics developed out of existing data, conventions and activities within British official statistics. At the end of this post I’ll try to sketch some connections between the conventions of poverty measurement and the wider economic and political changes which took place rapidly in Britain from 1980 (the “inequality turn”), and only later and rather differently in Germany.
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  1. As an aside: for a sociologist interested in the state, but new to archival work, there is a very seductive quality to national archives, with ribbon-bound buff folders, typewritten memoranda and annotations. It feels like one really is, at last, observing The State. In the course of various research I’ve interviewed a good number of civil servants, and their professional caution and circumspection is one distinguishing feature of such conversations. In contrast, the internal correspondence gives the effect of showing raison d’État at work – although, of course, circumspection is just as much as part of the “state effect”. I’d welcome any good literature suggestions on this, the problems of studying the state from different sources. []