Peter Townsend (sociologist)

Peter Townsend, professor of international social policy at the London school of economics.
Peter Townsend

Peter Brereton Townsend (6 April 1928, Middlesbrough – 7 June 2009, Dursley) was a British sociologist. The last position he held was Professor of International Social Policy at the London School of Economics. He was also Emeritus Professor of Social Policy in the University of Bristol, and was one of the co-founders of the University of Essex. He wrote widely on the economics of poverty and was co-founder of the Child Poverty Action Group.[1] The Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize was established by the British Academy in his memory.


Townsend was dedicated to studying "very carefully the life of the poorest and most handicapped members of society".[1] He applied this consistently outside academia as well as within it. He was co-founder of the Child Poverty Action Group in 1965, was its chair for 20 years and Life President from 1989. He also co-founded the Disability Alliance in response to the Thalidomide scandal, and chaired it for 25 years.[1]


Definition of relative poverty

Townsend inefficiency

Townsend inefficiency is a possible property of monetary exchange. Rather than evaluating the utility he generated in production, one of the parties is evaluating the value of the money he gets in the transaction.[3] In other words, a worker may only be looking at his paycheck instead of the amount of labour he promises to perform to get that paycheck. This sets up an inefficiency in the monetary exchange.

Personal life

He was married three times: Ruth Pearce (1949) with whom he had four sons; Joy Skegg (1977) with whom he had one daughter; Jean Ann Corston, a Labour peer and former MP (1985) (one stepson, one stepdaughter) who was his partner from 1980.[4]

Townsend died of heart failure on 7 June 2009. He was survived by Corston and his five children.[5]

Selected publications


External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Tony Benn
Chairman of the Fabian Society
1965 1966
Succeeded by
William Rodgers
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