Return to search

Child labour in Britain 1900-1973

Until relatively recently, 'child labour' remained a pejorative term used primarily by historians to describe the grinding and unremitting work routines and hostile work environments to which nineteenth century children were exposed. The start of the twentieth century, though, is frequently identified as marking the emergence of a more humanitarian attitude towards children, epitomised by the increasing willingness of the state to intervene in arenas such as child welfare. Historians have cited the intensification of legislation designed to protect the child as evidence to suggest that by the turn of the nineteenth century the vast majority of children were no longer significant workers. Before the publication of Emrys Davies' government funded 1972 study, which concluded that the employment undertaken by school children was frequently arduous and harmful, such claims were taken at face value in the academic world. As a result, until recently, the labour of school children throughout the twentieth century has not been subject to adequate social research, and the experiences of working school children have been largely ignored. However, as the recent upsurge in academic and political interest in child employment illustrates, the debate over what is an effective and appropriate level of child labour regulation remains a heated political question. One of the problems, though, is that a lack of information on the period c1900-1973 is hampering our understanding of the forces and interests which have helped shape child labour policy in Britain. Hence, this thesis has two main aims. Firstly, it seeks to provide detailed empirical information on the levels and types of work performed by children. Secondly, and more importantly, it aims to deepen our appreciation of the concerns which have influenced thinking and policy on this subject in the twentieth century. It is hoped that an analysis of these two issues will help us understand the origins and nature of current debates over school child labour, and to evaluate the 'solutions' advanced by politicians and academics in the twenty-first century. The potential impact of the range of factors and interests which are traditionally seen to be present within the policy-making process, such as ideologies, political parties and pressure groups, are assessed. Particular emphasis, though, is placed on the conservative role played by civil servants within the Home Office, the government department charged with responsibility for the administration of legislation for school children's employment throughout the period under examination. The thesis concludes that of all the agents active in the policy-making process, civil servants were the most influential in shaping the approach adopted by successive governments towards the question of child labour reform. It suggests that officials were guided by a pervasive 'departmental view' of the phenomenon, a key element of which emphasised its potential for channeling the potentially 'problematic' leisure hours of working class youths into creative outlets. Finally, the thesis highlights the extent to which the ideas and beliefs which underpinned thinking on child labour regulation between 1900-1973 continue to have an enduring influence on the current policy debate.
Date January 2000
CreatorsCunningham, Stephen
PublisherUniversity of Central Lancashire
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

Page generated in 0.0123 seconds