Journal of Social Policy



Peter Townsend


Widening inequality in the distribution of resources, higher rates of unemployment and deteriorating conditions in the inner cities have concentrated attention in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, upon the idea and exact meaning of ‘deprivation’. This scientific concept is used extensively not only in the analysis of social conditions but also, in an applied form, as an instrument of policy in allocating resources to particular regions, areas and services. This paper argues that the indicators which are chosen to represent the phenomenon are often unduly restricted and even involve double counting. As a result the distribution and severity of deprivation seems to be seriously misperceived and resources misallocated. A review of the available studies shows how the concept might be treated more coherently in relation to that of poverty.


* This paper arises from research on ‘Poverty and the London Labour Market’ financed during 1985 to 1987 by the Greater London Council and the Poverty Research (London) Trust. It was written partly in response to a request from the Board of Science Working Group of the British Medical Association on Deprivation and Disease. I record with gratitude my dependence on comments and advice from Brian Abel-Smith, Nick Bosanquet, Roy Carr-Hill, Paul Corrigan, Ian Gough, Michael Harloe, Ute Kowarzik, Susanne MacGregor, Eliane Mossé, Hilary Rose, Garry Runciman and David Watson.

† Professor of Social Policy, University of Bristol.