The Condition of Children in Britain in 1815-53

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The Condition of Children 1815-53:
What problems arose in the treatment of children in this period and how effectively were they tackled? Pre-existing conditions
Before the Industrial Revolution most people who worked in clothes and match making industries worked at home and set their own pay and work-hours, it was relatively ineffective in comparison to the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, when vastly more efficient machine looms were invented, a large number of workers were required to staff and operate them. However, it had very detrimental effects: the pay was lower and the hours longer, conditions hazardous and children in demand. These problems arose because unskilled labour was needed and the need to increase efficiency by working the machines for longer. If wages could be kept low then even more profits could be made allowing expansion of the factory and business. Whilst this was good for the industrialists, the workers, especially children and women suffered terribly. The long hours often meant they only had one meal a day and only 6 hours of sleep a night due to the 16-hour working day. The only time off was on Sunday but even then it was only for a few hours. People had to work in 27-degree heat and the unfenced machines maimed those who worked and didn’t move quickly enough.

Attitudes to child labour were very different back then as most people were ignorant of the reasons of child labour. They saw children working because their parents saw it best for them or they chose to do so and if they didn’t the parents could keep them at home. However in most cases the poor didn’t have any choice in the matter as the children would have to work or starve because the wages in factories were simply too low, around 4 shillings a week. Factory owner’s attempts at change

Before 1833 there were no laws protecting the worker from long hours or awful conditions. There were philanthropic factory owners such as Robert Owen in Scotland who inherited a textile mill and tried a social experiment by improving the living conditions to improve profits. He also felt genuine moral reasons to improve conditions for the workers. This included cutting the working hours to 10 and half hours a day, paying decent wages even in times of stringency and refusing to employ children under 10. Owen’s mills made a large profit, and Owen rewarded his workers for their hard work and time keeping by building shops, schools and decent size houses for all the families who worked in the mills. There were other examples of this such as Titus Salt in Bradford who built a model town for his workers to live in because he wanted to reform working conditions. However, these kinds of factory owners were atypical and were ahead of their time and as a result they had to work hard to raise public awareness of the factory conditions so that reform could be carried out. The problem was that the working class were still not allowed to vote and only the middle and upper classes could. The working class had no awareness from the Established Order and had no power to improve it. Most of these voters were factory owners or professionals such as doctors or lawyers but even then most of them had no idea what it was like to work in a factory. In order to persuade them the reformers compiled reports and published “Blue Books” on factory life, so it must be noted that whilst most of our evidence comes from these books they do have an agenda and need to be viewed as such. Early Parliamentary attempts at reform

In 1802 Parliament first passed the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, which attempted to enforce basic rights for children, such as sets of clothing and no more than 2 children to a bed. It said that they should not work for more than 12 hours a day and banned nightshifts. It also indicated that the apprentices should be given a basic education in English and maths. These just shows how bad the living conditions for young apprentices were if they had to make...
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