In 1901, fewer children worked than
at any time in the 19th century. This was a result of the
establishment of elementary
education and of other
parliamentary measures preventing very young children working
in mines and factories. But this does not mean that no children
were in paid employment. Although the 1901 Census Report recorded
that the regular employment of children under 10 years of
age had practically been abolished, nearly 900,000 children
aged 10 to 15 were at work.
All work and no play
Children's work was not as varied as that undertaken by
adults. Boys were most commonly employed as messengers or porters.
The agricultural sector and the textile industry were their
next most important employers. For girls, domestic service provided
the most opportunities for employment, followed by textile and
clothing manufacture or sales.
There was growing concern in government about child employment.
An inter-departmental government report on the employment
of schoolchildren, researched in 1901, found that 'the effects
are injurious alike to education and health'. Its committee
found that around 70% of children were working for 20 hours
or less a week but that 9% were working for more than 30 hours
a week. Committee members were also concerned about the conditions
in which children were working: in one instance it was found
that 'the hours are long, sanitary conditions are bad and
the conversation is the worst conceivable for children'.
The government was also worried about wage rates. An investigation
into child employment in 1898 found that the vast majority
of children earned less than 2s per week. This was undoubtedly
low remuneration. However, in an age when nearly a third of
the population was living in chronic poverty and very many
more were classed as poor, even such a small contribution
could make a considerable difference to families.