Labour, the Children’s Champion

An Appeal To The Workers!

Probably 1923

Children 1923

Published by The Trades Union Congress and The Labour Party, 32, 33, 34 Eccleston Square, London, S.W.1

Price 1d; Post free 1 1/2 d. (9d. per dozen carriage paid)

Dr. Somerville Hastings  M.B., M.S., F.R.C.S.

Every father and every mother must wish to see their children grow up strong and healthy, and able to take their place in life, and they are willing to work hard and make great sacrifices to enable them to do so. But this is not enough, for a reactionary Government may destroy all they are trying to do, and if parents really want their children to have the best chances in life, they must vote for the only party that has the true interests of the children at heart.

Most of the evils that the Labour Party is fighting—unem­ployment, low wages, bad housing—affect the children more severely than the parents. At least 90 per cent. of children are born healthy. How is it, then, that the death-rate of the babies of unskilled workers under the age of one year was, in 1911, twice as great as of those of middle- and upper-class parents, and that a working-class child of twelve living in a slum area is about three inches shorter and nine pounds lighter than a child of the same age born of more fortunate parents? How is it that in one borough of London over half the children in the elementary schools failed to reach the standard of knowledge assumed to be normal for their age? Must it not surely be that the children of the workers are not really getting a fair chance? It is here that the Labour Party comes in and says that we must not be content until there is provided for every child, whether its parents be rich or poor, everything that is necessary for its full development. It says that the only way the resources of the country can be used to the best advantage is by giving to every child the opportunity of reaching the position for which he or she is best suited. Everyone knows that it is only possible for the children of rich parents now to attain to the best positions of life, but the Labour Party wants to make that possible for even the children of the very poorest. The Labour Party believes in giving everyone a chance, or in equality of opportunity, as it is called, and knows that if it is to be a real thing and not a sham, equality of opportunity must begin from birth.


Now the first thing that the Labour Party would like to see insured to every child is a mother’s care. No one can take the place of a mother in the care and nurture of a child, especially a young child. A baby with even a fairly skilful mother who can spare the time to look after it, does better as a rule than one brought up in the very best creche or children’s home. Why is this?

In the first place, because it gives the mother a chance to feed the child by the breast, which is the natural way, and best for both mother and child. In 1909 the death-rate of Salford babies who were breast-fed was on the average less than half that of babies who had to be fed by hand. Again, a mother who has to go out to work and look after her home as well, cannot possibly give the time and attention necessary for the care of her children. She has to get up very early in the morning to give the children their breakfast, then on her way to work take the babies to someone to ” mind.” She has no time to cook the children’s dinner, and they either return from school to get their own, or go without. When she comes home at night she finds the home, which has been locked up all day, cold and unventilated, and has to put the children hurriedly to bed and then do her own housework herself. No wonder, then, that the children do not thrive, and that they often grow up sickly and unhealthy, or die of bronchitis or diarrhoea or other infectious disease.

In 1910 the medical officer of health of Dewsbury, another large industrial town, found that the death-rate of babies where mothers had to go out to work was four and a-half times as great as where they could stop at home and look after their children, and even in the same mean streets of back-to-back houses, the death-rate was actually four times as great when the mother went out to work.

But why do mothers go out to work, and thus neglect their children? Not because they want to! Not to earn a little extra pocket money. In most cases it is either because the father alone cannot earn enough to provide the necessary food and clothing for the family, or because the father is dead. Unemployment and low wages exact their toll from the children, not only when they deprive them of food and of the necessities for healthy develop­ment, but also when they drive their mothers out to work.


But if the breadwinner of a working-class family dies, things are even worse for the children. What not infrequently happens is something like this: The widow appeals for help to the “Guardians of the Poor” as they are misnamed, and she is told that if, having lost her husband, she is willing to lose some of her children as well and have them taken away from her and sent to the workhouse schools, she will be granted a small weekly sum as out-relief. Hardly understanding what is meant, she generally agrees, only to find that the weekly allowance is insufficient to support herself and the remaining children, and that she has to leave them and go out to work in order to make both ends meet.

Now the Labour Party says this is utterly wrong. During the war, when a man died fighting for his country, his widow received a pension to enable her to stay at home and look after her children, and quite right, too! When a man dies or is killed working for his country, ought not that country to do the same?

In most of the United States of America, Denmark, New Zealand, and parts of Australia, when a widow is left with young children, it is felt that the best service she can render to the country is to be a good mother and train up fine healthy children, and she is paid by the country for doing this. She gets her money each week as a right, and not as a charity from the relieving officer. The Labour Party has already made three attempts to get this principle adopted by Parliament, but it has been stopped by the Conservatives.

One of the first things a Labour Government would do if returned to power would be to pass a Bill to provide Pensions for Widowed Mothers.


The next thing the Labour Party desires to see insured for every child is a decent home. We can no more expect to grow healthy children in unhealthy, damp, overcrowded homes, than geraniums in dark cellars. Children are affected by the homes in which they live much more than older people are, and the death-rate of babies all over England was found to be more than three times as great in homes of one room as in those of ten rooms or more. This cannot be mainly a question of a healthy and unhealthy district, because Sir George Newman found in 1906 that in one ward of the borough of Finsbury, London, nearly double as many babies died in one-roomed homes as in homes of four rooms or more.

But why is overcrowding so bad for children? For several reasons. In the first place, because children need light and air almost more than anything else. Where three or four children, and perhaps an adult, are all sleeping in the same small room they cannot possibly get the fresh air they need, and are bound to suffer in consequence. In Glasgow and other large cities for instance, half the children of the poor were found to be suffering from rickets, a disease partly due to deficient light and air, and partly to improper food. Nothing can take the place of fresh air and sunlight for young children. That is why, in spite of poverty and lack of proper food and often damp unhealthy cottages, country children are generally more healthy than those who live in towns. That is why the Labour Party will never rest until the narrow courts and slums of our towns are all pulled down and replaced by light, airy, and healthy homes.

But there is another reason why overcrowding is so bad for children. It is not generally realised how many of the diseases from which young children suffer are infectious. The summer diarrhoea of children, for instance, is really an infectious disease. It is spread by dust and flies which contaminate the children’s food. Consequently it is much more likely to occur in homes where proper accommodation for the keeping of food does not exist. But not only is the spread of all infectious diseases much increased by overcrowding, but the diseases tend to become more severe also. That is perhaps why the death-rate from measles, whooping cough, and diphtheria in Glasgow was found to be four times as great in homes of one room as in those of four rooms and over.


In England 800,000 families live in homes of one or two rooms only; in Scotland nearly half the population exist under overcrowded conditions. Everyone knows how difficult it is for the mother of a family to keep such homes clean and tidy. Cleanliness is of course of the utmost importance to children; but so is tidiness, for children are greatly influenced by the conditions under which they live. Growing boys and girls who have to sleep together in the same room, or in the same room as their parents, can hardly be expected to retain that simplicity and modesty which we all like to see.

The Labour Party insists that it is the Government’s business to build houses for the people. It says that it is absurd to pay tens of thousands of builders for doing nothing when we need houses and when there is everything in the country necessary for building them.      It knows that the late Coalition Government allowed the profiteers to corner most of the building materials and make enormous profits out of houses. The present Government is spending on clearing and rebuilding the slums less than a quarter of a million pounds a year—a sum insufficient even to give a coat of whitewash to all those houses condemned by experts as being unfit for people to live in. The Labour Party alone intends to build houses for the people—houses with a parlour, a bathroom, and wherever possible a garden as well—and will let them at a rent that workers can afford to pay.


It is a terrible thought, that in this wealthy country where luxury abounds, thousands of children are not getting enough food to keep them in health, but it is nevertheless true. Medical inspection of school children has shown that 300,000 are suffering from malnutrition. Where the father’s wages are small and he has to work hard, he cannot be allowed to go short, and mother and the children have to suffer. Where unemployment exists things are even worse, and actual starvation often results, for how can a man and wife and five children live on 25s. a week, which is all that the “dole” provides for them?

In July, 1921, two doctors gave an account in one of the medical papers, the Lancet, of an investigation they had made into the lives of eleven families of the unemployed in Glasgow. They found that in only two of these families was sufficient money coming in to buy enough food to keep them in health, and that, excepting in one family which had been better off, the children were under weight.

In London children can be seen sitting on the doorsteps of bakers’ shops soon after five in the morning waiting for the shops to open to get cheap stale bread. If a Labour Government is returned to power the systematic starvation of the children of the land, because their parents are poor or out of work, will undoubtedly be stopped, but however hard we try, nothing that can be done will ever undo the wrongs that are being done to-day for under-feeding is sure to leave its mark for life in dwarfed and ill-developed frames, mental slowness, and poor constitution.

Soon after the close of the war a very valuable Act of Parlia­ment was passed which permitted local authorities to grant cheap, or if necessary free, milk to expectant mothers and young children, but directly unemployment began to increase and the need for milk for children became therefore more urgent, the late Government, of which the present is but a continuation, began to make it more and more difficult for local authorities to make these grants. Consequently, at the present time, in some districts only about a quarter as much milk is being supplied as two years ago.

Milk as everyone knows is a most valuable food for children, but unless it is clean and pure it may be most dangerous. In this country, where so many of the laws are designed to benefit the wealthy, the Government takes but little trouble to see that the children’s milk is pure, and a lot of the milk supplied in working‑class districts is so bad that it would not be allowed to be sold at all in New York and many other cities in America. Nearly half
(42 per cent.) of the herds of cows that produce milk in this country are infected with consumption or tuberculosis and from 6 per cent. to 10 per cent. of milk sold to the public has been shown to contain the germs of this deadly disease.

Nevertheless, very few steps are taken by the Government to protect the public, and it is still perfectly legal for a farmer to sell or use a cow for milking purposes, though he knows that the germs of consumption are constantly present in its milk. The Labour Party would pass legislation to make it easy for all children who need milk to obtain it, and would see that the best and purest milk is provided for the children.


As has been truly said, there are two kinds of schools in this country: one for the children of the rich where boys and girls are taught to rule, and one for the children of the workers where the youngsters are taught to be ruled. It is certainly true that in some of our village schools a good deal of the education consists in instruction as to who are the pupils’ “betters,” and how they ought to be treated.

About six out of every seven children in England attend the public elementary schools. Surely some of them are fit to govern, or at least fit to become architects, lawyers, barristers, doctors, &c. But these occupations require four or five years of expensive training after the boy or girl leaves school, and however clever a child may be, however many scholarships he may get, there are very few working-class parents who can afford, with wages as they are to-day, to keep their child at home earning nothing until he is twenty or twenty-one, for this is what entering a profession means. I know that a man (or woman) may with great difficulty save money and become a doctor, for instance, later on in life, but he (or she) will never be as good as he might have been had he started earlier, for youth is the time to learn. Except for the very few who have been able to do this, all doctors must therefore have been members of fairly well-to-do families, or in other words, we are getting practically all our doctors from a small class, about a seventh of our population, and wasting all the talent, however great it may be, in the other six-sevenths; and what is true of doctors is true of most other professions. Surely this is wrong!


At any rate, the Labour Party thinks it is, and would provide scholarships with maintenance so as to render education, not only at the universities, but also for the skilled trades and professions, as possible for the son of the agricultural labourer if he has the brains, as for the son of a duke. Only in this way can the resources of the country—of which its children are the most valuable—be used to the best advantage.

While the Conservatives have been in power during the last two years they have been trying to save money on education by abolishing the continuation schools ; by having huge classes of forty, fifty, or even sixty children under one teacher ; by employing untrained teachers, though there are still plenty of trained ones out of work ; by restricting expenditure on the meals of school children of poor families ; and by making it more difficult for children to pass from the elementary schools to the secondary and central schools. But surely this is false economy!

If this country is to keep its place in the world it cannot afford to have the children of other nations better educated than its own. In the United States 28 per cent. of the children pass from the elementary to the secondary schools, but in England only 8.7 per cent. The Labour Party wants to see more children going on from the elementary to the secondary schools, and it advocates full maintenance allowances for these children when necessary. Labour would resist strongly the present tendency to admit to such schools fee-paying pupils on easier terms than free-place pupils from the elementary schools.

People do not always realise how much the growing power of the workers is due to the education they received as children, and how much, therefore, the Labour Party is indebted to the school teachers for the fine work many of them have been doing. Labour would improve the status of the teachers, give them a wider measure of control in the schools, and secure representation for them on all local education committees. It would also give the parents a voice in the management of the schools where their children are taught.


Lastly, the Labour Party would like to insure to the children the very best possible help when they are ill. At the present time there is a lot of illness among the children of the workers which never gets properly treated, and from the results of this neglect they may suffer all through their life.

The medical inspection of children has shown that one million of the six million school children in England and Wales are so mentally and physically defective as to interfere with their education, and that about half of them (three million) have something wrong with their teeth. Children are such delicate little things, and go from bad to worse so quickly, that it ought to be easy for every mother to get medical advice directly she thinks her child needs it. At present in very many workers’ families the doctor is only called in when his services are felt to be more necessary than food and clothing, and when it seems safer to do without the necessities of life than without his advice. Consequently he is often sent for too late.

Again, in working-class neighbourhoods where, owing to poverty and bad housing conditions there is much sickness amongst children, doctors are often few and far between and much overworked. In Hampstead, for instance, doctors are nearly ten times as numerous as in Bermondsey, although the children in Hampstead stand a better chance of being healthy. In many towns there are of course hospitals and infirmaries where mothers can have their children treated if they are well enough to be taken there, but nowadays even this means some expense which can often be ill-afforded, and loss of valuable time for the parent. Moreover, children sometimes get fresh diseases from others while waiting to be seen, and in some towns and most country districts there are no hospitals at all.

The Labour Party stands for free doctoring for all. It says that the State should provide everything necessary to cure your children when they are ill, that there should be no difficulty in getting a first-class doctor to come and see them at home when this is necessary, and that the doctor should be able to arrange for their admission as in-patients to hospital, or send them to a convalescent home, and to order nourishment as well as medicine when this is required.

Most careful mothers are constantly coming across problems with regard to the feeding, clothing, and slight ailments of their children which they would like to discuss with people who thoroughly understand such matters. The Labour Party realizes how very useful the Mothers’ and Babies’ Welcomes have been. It would provide many more in both town and country districts, and make them even more useful than at present. It believes that more money should be spent on maternity and child welfare, and not less, as the present Government proposes.

As long as you can remember there has been either a Liberal or Conservative Government in power. What have they done for you and your children? You have almost come to believe that things will never improve, and as long as you keep your oppressors in political power you are right. But there is still one party that looks upon all the reforms I have described as the birthright, not only of the children of the rich, but of every child. For the sake of your children therefore


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