In 1833, a law was passed in Britain limiting working hours about women and children working in textile mills; this came as a result of a parliamentary investigation into the conditions of working in the textile industry. In the course of the investigations, several people were called up to give evidence before the saddler committee aptly named after Michael saddler who was instrumental in getting the investigation started.
It was revealed to the committee that there were major malpractices in the industry ranging from Child labor, to Physical abuse, not to mention overworking of laborers and underpaying them (Drake, 1832). Although industrialization had caused a significant increase in the standard of living for the ordinary folk in industrial market economies, it came at a cost.
It was apparent to the investigators that the conditions created by factory owners had far-reaching consequences. By overworking the laborers, they employed fewer people and paid even less for their labor, exacerbating the already grinding poverty prevalent in the time. Children had no time to go to school because they had to work to boost their parent’s income; this would result in a whole generation of illiterates growing up to continue living the same life.
A whole generation grew up not knowing how to stand up for their rights. Parents had little or no time to spend with their children and thus could not guide their children if and when they went wrong. The overworked people were too busy working to take care of themselves; it was clear from the evidence presented that they had little time for meals and recreation.
They lived on a hand to mouth basis despite their long working hours and the wages given to children were not enough to cater to their needs. The investigators learned that the laborers were willing to work fewer hours even if that meant less pay for them. Some of the work the children were subjected to deformed them physically.
Factory owners loved to employ women and children for the simple reason that they could be paid very little, and they were more easily controlled. Children also had smaller hands that came in handy when needed to reach some parts of the machines. Children, unlike the adults, were more malleable and more adaptable.
It was also easier to force children to work than adults. As a result, women and children made up 75% of all workers in the early stages of industrialization. There were no laws in place to protect the laborers from being taken advantage of, abused and misused and if they were there, then they were not enacted, and that meant that the vicious circle would not end.
With no government regulation, wealthy owners could do as they pleased regarding the most profitable course in their businesses, paying little regard to the safety of their employees. This blind pursuit of wealth led to the breakdown of the family unit.
According to a Report by Chadwick, (1842), the root cause of a variety of diseases affecting laborers was “atmospheric impurities” from decomposing materials of animal or vegetable origin, and overcrowding in damp and filthy factories and dwellings.
These diseases arose from the physical environment around which these people lived, and the frequency of the attacks by such diseases would reduce and or stop completely if the environment were to be cleaned up. Improved ventilation, drainage, and cleaning of the environment would do the trick (p. 369-372).
The Industrial Revolution caused a fundamental shift in the social structure of Britain. Before the revolution, most of the populace relied on agriculture with a few skilled craftsmen on the side. The family unit was strong as people lived and worked as families while at the same time a majority of the populace lived in the countryside.
The industrial revolution brought in its tide of new inventions that made skilled arts such as hand weaving obsolete. The advent of the industrial revolution caused people to move to towns and cities to work in the factories. This leads to overcrowding in towns which were neither prepared for this influx of persons, nor were they in a position to provide the necessary amenities.
It is worthy to note that attending to the rites of cleanliness is a futile venture where water supply is deficient. The loss of life from unsanitary environments is sadly usually more than conflict caused deaths as noted by the saddler committee. A population bred in polluted unsanitary conditions is generally less healthy, and more prone to infections than that bred in a cleaner safer environment.
A people living under these adverse circumstances are careless about its well being as well as the environment it lives in; they find no fault in living in overcrowded quarters which can bring about negative effects especially with regards to their morality. The living conditions were not good; slums formed around industrial centers to cater to working families need for housing. Sanitation in the slums was non-existent, and infant mortality rates shot up.
Chadwick, E. (1842). Sanitary conditions of the laboring population of Great Britain. London: Clowes and Sons
Drake, J. (1832). Parliamentary papers. London: Sadler Committee