Reforms to help the sick

In the early 20th century a free National Health Service did not yet exist and the poor could not usually afford medical attention. To help address this, the Liberal Government introduced the National Insurance Act in 1911.

National Insurance Act Part 1, 1911

Details and successes

  • provided compulsory health insurance for workers earning under £160 per year
  • the scheme was contributory - the employee paid 4d, the employer paid 3d and the state paid 2d - to provide sickness benefit of 9 shillings
  • if ill, the employee was paid 9 shillings (for up to 13 weeks) then 5 shillings (for an additional 13 weeks)
  • the employee was also offered free medical treatment
  • 30 shillings was provided for maternity benefit


  • benefits were lost after 26 weeks absence from work
  • after 26 weeks the Poor Law had to provide for the worker
  • there was no provision for the worker’s family
  • many objected to the compulsory payments they had to make - but they could not opt out