Unemployment Assistance before 1934
The National Insurance Act 1911 established a system of unemployment insurance administered by the Board of Trade and, after 1917, by the Ministry of Labour.
Two classes of unemployed persons were thereby created, the insured dependent upon the insurance fund and the uninsured dependent upon relief by the public assistance authorities under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. Prolonged unemployment caused by economic recession after 1929, placed excessive demands on the Insurance Fund and 'uncovenanted' or 'transitional' benefits were made from the national exchequer to those who had exhausted their insurance benefits.
In 1930 a Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance was appointed to consider and make recommendations concerning the unemployment insurance scheme and arrangements for the able-bodied unemployed outside the scheme. A majority report of the Commission in 1932 advocated administration through the public assistance authorities, while a minority report preferred the use of the employment exchanges of the Ministry of Labour. The former recommendation was adopted with the introduction of a scheme of 'transitional payments' administered through the public assistance authorities under their 'means tests'.
In certain areas commissioners responsible directly to the Ministry of Labour were appointed to supersede the local administration.
Unemployment Assistance Board 1934 to 1940
The Unemployment Assistance Board was established under the Unemployment Act 1934 with power to assist able-bodied unemployed persons throughout Great Britain whose insurance benefits were either exhausted or insufficient for their needs or who were not covered by unemployment insurance.
The new scheme was designed to supersede outdoor relief to the unemployed by public assistance authorities. The Board was also empowered to give training to applicants to fit them for entry into, or return to, regular employment. Ministerial responsibility for the Board was vested in the Ministry of Labour.
Assistance Board 1940 to 1948
The Old Age and Widows' Pension Act 1940 transferred to the Unemployment Assistance Board the administration of supplementary old age pensions in place of the outdoor relief paid by public assistance authorities. The Board was thereby placed in the same constitutional relationship with the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Office as it had formerly been with the Ministry of Labour.
The renamed Assistance Board was charged with the administration of supplementary pensions.
In 1943 the board took over from the Board of Customs and Excise the administration of non-contributory old age pensions of persons who were also in receipt of supplementary pensions. Later in the same year the board undertook the supplementing of pensions of widows under 60 who had young children. In 1947 administration of remaining non-contributory old age pensions passed to the board from the Board of Customs and Excise.
The Polish Resettlement Act of that year made the board responsible for the provision of accommodation in hostels for certain Poles and for the board and lodging of the old, sick or disabled amongst them.
During the Second World War the principal additional duty of the Board was the prevention and relief of distress caused by war. It was empowered to grant allowances to persons in need as a direct result of the war who would not otherwise have been eligible for unemployment assistance.
The Board also acted as agent for other Government departments in the field of emergency services. The temporary injury allowances payable to civilian casualties under the personal injuries (civilians) schemes of the Ministry of Pensions were administered by the Board.
The Board also undertook on behalf of the same ministry and the service departments the work of investigating the circumstances of persons for whom a war service grant or a service dependent's allowance had been claimed. The board was responsible for advance payments of compensation for war damage as agent for the Treasury and War Damage Commission and later under the War Damage Acts.
In 1945 ministerial responsibility for the Board was transferred from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour and National Service to the Ministry of National Insurance.
National Assistance Board 1948 to 1966
The Assistance Board was reconstituted under the National Assistance Act 1948, which defined its main function as assistance to persons whose resources were insufficient to meet their needs 'in such a manner as shall best promote the welfare of the persons concerned'. The Act abolished both the old Poor Law and most of the legislation under which the Assistance Board had acted. Distinctions between different groups of persons in need were replaced by a single system of national assistance administered by the National Assistance Board.
The work of the public assistance authorities was in effect divided between the board, the National Health Service and local authorities, respectively, in respect of financial assistance, medical treatment and welfare services.
The Board was also made responsible for provisions for the temporary shelter and welfare of 'persons without a settled way of living'. The provisions of the National Assistance Act superseded the assistance formerly rendered to Poles outside hostels under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, but the provisions of the latter act remained the statutory basis, of the board's responsibility for maintaining Polish hostels.
The National Assistance Act also made statutory the administration of non-contributory old age pensions by the board. The board was also responsible for the administration of non-contributory pensions payable to blind persons over the age of 40. The Board took over the functions of the Local Pension Committees and appointed former members of such committees to its own Advisory Committees.
The Board was also made responsible for the determination of the means of persons seeking legal aid in civil proceedings. The Board had to supply this information to the appropriate local committee of the Law Society.
In 1966 the National Assistance Board was abolished and its functions passed to the Ministry of Social Security and a dependant Supplementary Benefits Commission.