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During the years of 1783 – 1812, Britain experienced the early years of the Industrial Revolution. This revolution impacted the lives of many people in Britain in a mixture of different ways, some positive due to advancements in technology but others negative such as the rising child death rates. However, there is much evidence to suggest that the hardships of the working classes as a result of industrialization have been overstated as there were others factors that were more important.
It is fair to assume that the major hardships of this time period were brought about by industrialization. The working conditions of this time period were extremely dire and a major hardship for the laboring classes. The conditions were awfully humid in the factories, it commonly caused lung infections amongst the workers. Meanwhile there was no system of sick pay or national insurance, therefore, it was in the best interest of the workers to resist their illness. Shift patterns were also difficult, they were twelve hours per day, six days per week as factory owners wanted optimum profits. Due to the extensive hours, workers were regularly exhausted and were subject to fines if it affected their punctuality. Due to children being a cheaper source of labour for factory owners; the death rate for children in London factories risen to 90%. Workers were also at risk of getting hair or fingers trapped in the machinery causing many injuries but having no source of insurance.
In contrast, the country was getting richer due to national income increasing. National income in this period increased from £232million to £523million. This meant that there was a wider margin for workers for their disposable income. Also, wider ranges of goods were on offer such as tea and sugar which could be imported. The diet of the labouring class began to diversify. This further suggests that industrial output increased which meant that the variety of consumer goods was also increasing. Income is emblematic of an increase in the standard of living as the working classes, which was around 80% of the population, were migrating to towns and cities, where there were higher wages for the same job. There are also other hardships in the period such as the bad harvests that occurred in 1795-1796 and 1799-1800, this hardship would have caused intense hunger and a lack of income for farmers. Another hardship was the Napoleonic Wars, which caused a stagnation in the rise of wages, both these hardships were not related to industrialization.
There were also social reforms that affected the frameworks of society creating a hardship for labourers. The Combination Acts of 1799 was an integral part of these reforms. Workers had moved to the urban city and lived in close proximity to each other, therefore they shared ideas with their peers and able to voice their grievances to each other. This led to the development of unionism. At the present time, the French Revolution was occurring and the British government were still concerned by the threat of it influencing British citizens. Therefore, the Combination Laws banned trade unionism and limited the rights of workers and their political voice.
On the other hand, this changing framework of society benefitted many labourers. Many argue that the blatant decrease in the standard of living for the working classes was the same but an increase for the middle and upper classes. The middle classes were broadening their economic opportunities and were able to educate their children without having no disposable income. This was not possible for the working classes. The upper classes were also getting richer as a result of enclosure. Therefore, it can be argued that the extent to which working classes benefited from industrialization was minor compared to the extent to which the middle and upper classes did and therefore the hardships are exaggerated because of this relative difference.
In conclusion, the impact of industrialization has been overstated as the positives of hardships outweighed the negatives. Also, there were other factors there were more important in worsening conditions for the labouring poor such ass the Napoleonic wars and bad harvests. Many of the problems experienced by the labouring poor, regarding the economy and industrialization were often intensified by the population growth that was occurring throughout the period.
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