Local Government Board
The Local Government Board was established by the Local Government Board Act 1871, which provided for the merger of the Poor Law Board, the Local Government Act Office of the Home Office and the Medical Department of the Privy Council Office to form a single board with primary responsibility for supervision of local government services.
During and following the First World War the board was required to fulfil special functions, and they were discharged both through its existing departments and by newly-formed ones. A special Prevention and Relief of Distress Department was constituted in August 1914. Local relief committees were also formed to deal with applications for relief and to co-ordinate measures for the relief of distress attributable to the war. Grants to these committees were made from the National Relief Funds. Government grants in connection with compensation were administered through this machinery.
The board exercised some supervision also over the scheme for assistance to British refugees from abroad through the Central Charities Committee. Assistance to aliens, British-born dependents of internal and, after July 1918, repatriated aliens, dependents of Russians under the Anglo-Russian Military Service Convention and grants in respect of civilian internment camps were paid from government funds through the boards of guardians.
The board also had some responsibilities for short-term relief to dependents of members of the armed forces and allowances to local government officers on active service.
The board had general responsibility for the system of national registration for wartime purposes introduced by the National Registration Act 1915 and for the operation of military service tribunals in England and Wales.
Ministry of Health
The Ministry of Health was established under the Ministry of Health Act 1919 and assumed from 1 July that year the powers and duties of the Local Government Board and the National Health Insurance Commissions for England and Wales, together with powers of the Privy Council under the Midwives Acts.
A Welsh Board of Health was also set up under the act to exercise such powers as the minister might delegate to it in respect of Wales. At the same date a separate Scottish Board of Health was established. Subsequently other transfers of function took place, the ministry taking over some powers from the Home Office and giving up others to other departments. The Minister of Health was also given certain supervisory powers over the General Nursing Council.
The principal purpose of the new ministry was to consolidate under a single authority the medical and public health functions of the central government and the co-ordination and supervision of local health services in England and Wales. These functions were primarily the responsibility of the Health Divisions. Co-ordination of local medical services was greatly extended in connection with emergency and wartime services from 1938 to 1945, and these developments culminated in the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. This thereafter became the primary responsibility of the department, which had overall control of local and regional health bodies.
At its inception the Ministry of Health had other important functions, most of which were later transferred to other departments. Its second main function was the supervision of local government services, for which it had general as well as specific responsibilities.
In July 1942 the ministry's statutory planning functions were transferred to the Ministry of Works and Planning, and in 1951 duties relating to local government administration, environmental health services and housing were assigned to the new Ministry of Local Government and Planning.
The ministry was also responsible for the oversight and co-ordination of the system of national health insurance established in 1911 and that of contributory old age, widows' and orphans' pensions introduced in 1925. These duties were carried out by the Insurance Department until April 1945 when, with the exception of residual medical benefit work, they were transferred to the Ministry of National Insurance.
A fourth main function of the ministry was the supervision of public assistance services. The traditional role of the poor law authorities declined on the introduction of national health and unemployment insurance and of contributory and non-contributory old age and widows' pensions. The mass unemployment of the inter-war years led to the gradual transfer of financial responsibility for public assistance from local to central government and within central government to other departments, notably the Ministry of Labour, responsible for the insured unemployed, and the Unemployment Assistance Board.
In 1940 supplementary pensions were introduced to assist those whose ordinary pensions were insufficient. Responsibility for such persons passed from the public assistance authorities to the Assistance Board, which became responsible to the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland for this part of its work. Residual functions in connection with public assistance were discharged by the Poor Law Division but abolished on the establishment of the National Assistance Board in 1948.
By 1951 the ministry was therefore concerned almost exclusively with national and local health, medical and hospital services.
Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS)
The Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) was created in November 1968. It was formed by the merger of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Security under a Secretary of State for Social Services. The secretary of state was assisted by two ministers of state responsible for health and social security respectively; in 1976 a Minister of Social Security of Cabinet rank was appointed within the department.
Responsibility for a number of functions was transferred both into and out of DHSS during the twenty years of its existence. In April 1969 health and welfare functions relating to Wales were transferred to the Welsh Office. In May 1970 the Secretary of State for Social Services was given ministerial responsibility for the newly-created Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. In January 1971 the child care functions of the Home Office in England, with the exception of adoption and juvenile delinquency and juvenile courts, passed to DHSS; responsibility for adoption was transferred in April 1973. In April 1971 responsibility for mentally handicapped children and junior training centres was passed to the Department of Education and Science.
During the 1970s and 1980s a substantial amount of legislation was passed which affected DHSS: this included the creation of the Occupational Pensions Board, and the major reorganisation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1973-1974. In March 1977 responsibility for proprietary medicines was transferred from the Department of Industry, and in the same year further legislation was passed on the NHS.
In 1980, the control of the administration of the supplementary benefits system and the provision of reception and resettlement centres passed to DHSS on the abolition of the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
In July 1988 the department was administratively divided into its two traditional broad functions, and the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security came into being.