The main purpose of the Local Government Act 1929 was to consolidate local government structures. It also sought to reform the administration of poor relief by transferring the responsibility to care for the poor to local authority public assistance committees (PACs). Poor relief was renamed public assistance.
The act made local authorities responsible for Poor Law hospitals (workhouse infirmaries). Those who were able to pay for treatment could be charged, but those who were not able to pay could access medical treatment for free as ratepayers. However, the pace at which local authorities took over Poor Law hospitals varied considerably. A Poor Law institution had to be formally stated or declared to be operating under Public Health Acts. To be ‘declared’, hospitals had to reach standards stated by the Ministry of Health. Meeting the standards required significant investment by local government, and for some councils, a period of economic depression prevented them from investing in local hospitals. The disparity between services provided by local government and the voluntary hospitals was to be a key driver in the establishment of the NHS.