Workmen's Compensation (Supplementary Allowances) Act, 1940
Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1940/3&4G6c47
The next major attempt to revise legislation in this area came in 1940 with the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementary Allowance) Bill. The Bill was moved by the Labour Party and focused especially on raising the level of compensation. It followed a disastrous Royal Commission announced in 1938 by the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The Royal Commission was intended to look into all aspects of workmen's compensation and by 1940 had amassed evidence running to 14 volumes from 125 witnesses. And then, partly because of the outbreak of war, but chiefly because of the lack of engagement on the part of employers, its work ground to a halt.
How did Members respond to the Bill in debates?
Members, including S.O. Davies, were keen to point out inequalities in the Bill, particularly including those affecting widows and children:
"Why the distinction between male and female workers? There are cases, I am told of widows with children who are not covered by our social insurances, and may I emphasise the appeal that was made by my hon. Friend? It is also most unfair to fix the age of the dependent child at 15. It will certainly cause very considerable hardship in the country... With regard to the recent scheme of the Minister of Pensions, there is no age limit fixed for children, so long as they are pursuing full-time education and are dependent upon persons who come within their jurisdiction."
Davies also criticised the use of complicated language to convey information that ordinary workers needed to be able to understand:
"I wonder whether the Under-Secretary and his Department can do something to simplify the appallingly involved formula relating to the payment of these allowances to injured workmen in receipt of partial pension. For a considerable time I, with far abler colleagues, have been trying to reduce this awful jargon to something which the ordinary workman can understand."
Did the 1940 Bill become law?
The Bill received royal assent in August 1940. Importantly it was applied retrospectively as far back as 1 January 1924. It provided for additional compensation based on the rates to which they were entitled under the 1925 Act. In other words, if a totally disabled worker with three children (under 14) had average earnings prior to his accident of £3, he would receive a compensation of 30 shillings. Under the supplementary scheme he would be entitled to a further 15 shillings, thereby extending his compensation benefit for 75% of pre-accident earnings. It was a step forward in recognising that compensation should be based on need and not on averages and hoop-jumping.