Children in the United Kingdom - Labour
Child Labour

History of Child Labour

The United Kingdom is not an underdeveloped third-world country. This does not, however, in any way imply that children lead fantasy lives. Child labour became a major problem in the United Kingdom during the Industrial Revolution. During this time period the United Kingdom transformed from an agricultural society into one ruled by technology and factories. To attain their maximum production at a cheaper price many manufacturers hired children to work in textile mills and as miners. In these factory settings children were subjected to harsh physical labour they could barely perform, as children in third-world sweat shops do today. Child labourers during the Industrial Revolution were stripped of their childhood, a time today associated with innocence and playfulness. Because of this romantic notion, the Factory Acts, laws regulating child labour, developed. These acts prohibited employment at certain ages, restricted working hours, and required that children go to school.

Child Labour Laws

Current laws on child labour were established by the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 which was amended in 1963. These laws stipulate that:

Minimum Wage Laws

The National Minimum Wage Act of 1998 dictates today's minimum wage laws. To be covered by this act one must be 18 years of age. Minimum wage DOES NOT apply to child labourers. In October of 2001 the minimum wage for people ages 18-21 and those starting new jobs at 22 was 3.5 per hour. Those who were 22 years of age and older could expect to earn at least 4.10 per hour.

Child Labour Today

Compulsory education is the most widely used regulator of child labour and, therefore, has become the primary activity of children in the United Kingdom. However, a considerable number of children are employed in part-time jobs:

Children in the United Kingdom are often employed within the fast food industry or perform small tasks for catering and retail businesses. Young boys frequently hold the traditional newspaper round and young girls commonly baby-sit for family and neighbors. Children may also work in their homes and for family businesses. At any rate children in employment are often mistreated because they are illegally hired. The government pays little attention to the mass amount of children who do not hold working permits, but work.* In Scotland, the Midlands, and the North of England, there is a 90% nonregistration rate. Moreover, the government pays little attention to children's health needs, working conditions remain poor, and wages are very low since minimum wage does not apply to school children. Unlike adult workers, child workers do not belong to unions and therefore, have inadequate political representation. Without the government intervening, more often it is unlikely that employers will start treating child labourers with the respect they deserve.

Being that children have little standing in the labour market one wonders why they choose to work. Although children receive minimal salaries for their labour, the little money they do make can grant them many economic freedoms. Some children keep this money for their own use to buy luxury goods, travel to and from places of recreation, and provide admission to leisure activities. Other children contribute their earnings to their families' income. This small amount of money can cause a 2% reduction between richer and poorer families.

*The enforcement of child labour laws is a complexity in the United Kingdom due to the variance of local bylaws established by different jurisdictions of the country. However, the New Labour government has recently begun to take a greater interest in enforcing national child labour laws (see BBC article under "Helpful Links" below).

Helpful Links

Please see our External Links page for additional useful internet sources and contact information.


McKechnie, Jim and Sandy Hobbs. 2001. "Work and Education: Are They Compatible for Children and Adolescents?" Pp. 9-23 in Hidden Hands International Perspectives on Childrens Work and Labour, edited by Phillip Mizen, Christopher Pole, and Angela Bolton. london, England: Routledge Falmer.

Middleton, Sue and Julia Loumidis. 2001. "Young People, Poverty and Part-Time Work." Pp. 24-36 in Hidden Hands International Perspectives on Childrens Work and Labour, edited by Phillip Mizen, Christopher Pole, and Angela Bolton. London, England: Routledge Falmer.

Mizen, Phillip, Christopher Pole, and Angela Bolton. 2001. "Why Be A School Age Worker?" Pp.37-54 in Hidden Hands International Perspectives on Childrens Work and Lobour, edited by Phillip Mizen, Christopher Pole, and Angela Bolton. London, England: Routledge Falmer.

Nardinelli, Clark. 1980. "Child Labor and the Factory Acts." The Journal of Economic History 40, 4: 739-755.

Office for National Statistics. 2001. UK 2002: The Official Yearbook of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Norwich: The Stationary Office.

Rikowski, Glenn and Mike Neary. 1997. "Working Schoolchildren in Britain Today." Capital and Class 63: 25-35.

The purpose of this website is to inform viewers about the status of children in the United Kingdom. This site was written and designed by Rebecca Daugherty, Katie Hiatt, Jamie Koenigsberg, and Rachel Zegas as part of a project for the first year writing seminar, Children and Society, taught by Professor April Brayfield at Tulane University.

updated December 14, 2002