Labour History Review

The Economics, Culture, and Politics of Hospital Contributory Schemes: The Case of Inter-war Leeds

Labour History Review (2012), 77, (3), 289–315.


The funding of hospitals in inter-war Britain was transformed by the development of a range of schemes designed to raise money from patients in return for more or less assured access to treatment. Drawing on the nineteenth-century traditions of mutual benefit societies and thrift agencies as well as the culture of trade unions, co-operative societies, and friendly societies, they brought together small contributions to pool risk and costs for the workers. However, despite important recent research which has gone some way to opening up the operation of these schemes to greater scrutiny and understanding, their social, cultural, and political make-up have received limited attention and we know very little about who joined, how the schemes operated on a day-to-day basis, and the extent to which they became politicized in the increasingly class-ridden inter-war years. This article considers these themes through a case study of the Leeds and District Workpeople's Hospital Fund. Drawing on annual reports, the Leeds Hospital Magazine, and the unpublished records of the scheme, it examines how the Fund was organized on the ground, who ran it, and if it was prone to class, ethnic, and political segregation. Inter alia it explores whether the Fund continued to operate as a pan-class, mutual-benefit, activist organization or if it succumbed to functionalist demands to provide insurance and guaranteed treatment.

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Author details

Doyle, Barry

Doyle, Barry