Finding out what the necessities of life are and how many people lack them

This practice note illustrates the process of determining what British residents consider to be necessities of life, a process which was integral to measuring poverty within the country. Anything considered by more than 50 per cent of the population to be a necessity was deemed as such by the survey, and similar approach and similar questions could be used by countries to determine which ICT services are considered a necessity among their populations.

The first stage of the research on necessities of life was to ask members of the general public which items and activities they consider necessary when defining the living standards that everyone in Britain ought to be able to reach. The Office for National Statistics Omnibus Survey, in June 1999, asked a representative sample of people aged 16 and over to classify various items and activities in order to determine the necessities of life. The survey participants had to sort cards, which illustrated 39 items and 15 activities relating to households, and 23 items and seven activities relating to children, into one of two categories. They were asked:

I would like you to indicate the living standards you feel all adults (and children) should have in Britain today. Box A is for items which you think are necessary, which all adults should be able to afford and which they should not have to do without. Box B is for items which may be desirable but are not necessary.

This 1999 study found that 71 per cent of respondents considered a fixed telephone as a necessity, 56 per cent a television, eleven per cent a home computer, seven per cent a mobile phone, and six per cent access to the Internet.

Having established, from the Omnibus Survey, which items more than 50 per cent of the population considered necessary, the main Poverty and Social Exclusion survey, carried out later in 1999, sought to establish which sections of the population had these necessities and which sections could not afford them. Respondents were asked:

Now I’d like to show you a list of items and activities that relate to our standard of living. Please tell me which item you have or do not have by placing the cards on: Pile A for the items you have; Pile B for items you don’t have but don’t want; and Pile C for items you do not have and can’t afford.

Source: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain (David Gordon and others, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2000).

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