One has grown accustomed of late to hear it asserted in various quarters that the working class has entered upon an era of untold “prosperity.” This being so I am at a loss to understand why it is that throughout the length and breadth of the land vast numbers of little children labour long hours for very little monetary reward. To me this seems to suggest the opposite of “prosperity.” Why do parents of working-class children send their offspring of tender years out to toil? Though Cabinet Ministers repeatedly tell us that the panacea for all our ills is increased production, we never read of their children or grandchildren, as the case may be, going in early years (or any other) to labour in mill, mine, or factory, or to deliver the morning milk or papers. Why, then, is this phenomenon reserved for the workers’ children? It therefore appears that the poverty position of the parents forces them to send out their young in order to swell the family exchequer. With the ever-increasing cost of living the struggle to make ends meet becomes ever more keen.
While not desiring to overburden the reader with tedious statistics, I cannot refrain from reproducing some interesting details on the question of employment of school children. Here they are:
“The Medical Sub-Committee of the Warrington Education Committee has published some striking figures as to child labour in that town. Several hundreds of children under eleven years are employed out of school hours. One girl of seven works 7½ hours weekly, another works 21 hours for 6d., and a girl of nine is employed 14 hours for the same wage.
A boy of eight years works 2¼ hours every day and 8 hours on Saturday for 2s.; another, aged nine, works 28 hours a week in a bakehouse. A lad of ten works 25 hours a week, of which 13 are on a Saturday. A girl, aged ten, washes, peels and chips potatoes for 20 hours a week for the sum of 1s. Not one of the 721 cases investigated got proper remuneration with the exception of the boys who sell and deliver newspapers.”
Sir George Newman gives the following instances in his report to the Board of Education:
“Errand boy, aged twelve, works an hour before breakfast, 1 hour at mid-day, 4 hours after school, and 13 hours on Saturday. His wages are 1s. 9d. a week, and his teacher reports him inattentive in school, overtired and nervous.
Boy of eleven worked 2¼ hours before school, 2¼ after school, and 13 hours on Saturday. Teacher reports he often fell asleep at school.
Boy of eleven works in and about stables for 8 hours a day, and 14 hours on Saturdays. Wages 6d. a week and his food. Teacher reports that he is dull and languid in school.”
Then Mr. Spurley Hey, Director of Education in Manchester, says that—
“in that city there are 6,000 children of school age employed for profit, some of whom work for 40 hours a week in addition to their time in school.”
The last quotation which I shall give is by no means the least. It states—
“In Birmingham there are 9,000 school children similarly employed, several hundreds of whom work over 40 hours a week, and one poor little child who works over 70 hours a week”.—Quotations from the “Daily Chronicle,” October 7th, 1919.
Thus in Christian England nineteen centuries after Christ is supposed to have said “Suffer little children to come unto me,” we find those who “call upon His name” re-echoing his words in their endeavour to obtain cheap labour and enhanced profits. Well may our contemporary refer to it as a “Child Labour Scandal.”
More prosperity ! “The Barking Education Authorities are to spend £50 on providing boots and shoes for necessitous children,” runs an announcement in the “Daily Herald” (15.10.19). This step is being taken, so we are informed, owing to the number of cases in which want of boots is given as an excuse for non-attendance at school.
Strong comment was made at the London Sessions by the Deputy-Chairman on the niggardliness of “our grateful country” to its heroes when a case was before them of an ex-soldier charged with shop-breaking. Here is what the Deputy-Chairman said :
“I understand you have been so severely wounded that you are incapable of doing any work, and a grateful country gives you 11s. a week to live upon. In those circumstances I do not know what on earth you could do except commit crime for a living. I shall take all steps in my power to see that this matter gets attention. It is perfectly scandalous, and the prisons of this country will be filled if that sort of pittance is given to people rendered incapable of doing any work.”—”Reynolds’s,” October 26th, 1919.
In that entertaining column, ”The Office Window,” which graces the pages of the “Daily Chronicle,” there recently appeared a jingle of rhyme which, like the straw, shows how the wind blows. The writer of the verses (“Sleet in Picadilly’) inquiring why the vagaries of the weather, concludes that it is because—
“Jove has been dealing in sealskins and muffs.”
God as a profiteer! That any writer in one of the great English dailies should dare suggest such a thing is pretty significant of the trend of current ideas.