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Progress after the 1923 Act

Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis) Act 1924

Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1924/14&15G5c40

What progress on compensation did the Labour party make during the 1920s?

When Ramsay MacDonald took office as the first Labour Prime Minister in January 1924, one of the first acts of Labour MPs was to consider how to reform the Workmen's Compensation Act (1923) to better reflect workers' needs. But as a minority government with a uncertain grip on power, Labour did not achieve a great deal.

Labour's major success during this period came in the form of the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis) Act which received Royal Assent in August 1924. This Act recognised tuberculosis as an industrial disease for the first time and therefore able to be compensated on the same basis as silicosis. The 1925 Workmen's Compensation Act provided for the consolidation of these amendments into one piece of legislation.

What it did not do was overturn the inadequacy of the benefit payments. Letters in the personal papers of S.O. Davies (held at Glamorgan Archives) show how frequently miners were paid much less the suggested maximum compensation rates. On average, it seems, that fatal injuries in Merthyr were compensated at a level of £250 and incapacity payments around 15s a week. The rates set out caused outrage amongst the labour movement because they did not adequately match the cost of living.

What attempts were made to raise compensation for injured workers in the 1930s?

In 1937, Jack Jones, Labour MP for West Ham Silvertown, moved a private members bill to amend the workmen's compensation act in order to raise the level of compensation payments, to finally introduce compulsory state insurance, to replace single medical examinations with medical compensation boards, and to provide additional payments to widows with adult dependents who cannot work. ‘We ask', he said, moving the bill, ‘that the same sympathy should be displayed in dealing with the soldiers of industry as to those soldiers who fought during the war'. When the Bill was put to a vote, 141 voted in favour (chiefly Labour MPs), and 205 from the government benches voted against.

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