Public Services

Public Services

The 20th century saw huge advances in Londoners' health, education, welfare and cultural opportunities. A central driver of change was London's public services, which for most of the century were largely delivered through local and national government. The rise and fall of the public sector is a key strand in the story of 20th century London.

London's sheer size had always made it difficult to find a single model for delivering public services. Generally, in 20th century London, housing, welfare, fire-services and education were the responsibility of local councils. Transport came to be run by a semi-public body, the London Passenger Transport Board, formed in 1933. Electricity and water were delivered by semi- public companies or boards for most of the century. London's police force, the Metropolitan Police, remained the only police force in England to be run directly by national government through the Home Office.

All of these services saw huge changes over the century as Britain turned itself into what has been called 'a welfare state'. The process began early on in the century. National government introduced a rudimentary system of old age pensions in 1908 and a national insurance system in 1911 which offered workers some protection against sickness or unemployment. The idea that the State had a role in matters hitherto left to self-help and charities was novel but not especially controversial. London offered vivid examples of social problems that demanded government intervention.

London's housing and education had already started to be tackled. The London County Council (LCC) took over the responsibilities of the London School Boards in 1902 and began the mammoth task of raising standards and organizing the system. 'The day is not far distant' said the LCC in 1920, 'when we shall have one system of education, available for all, suitable for all, paid for by all the community in the Education Rate'.

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