Office of hope: A history of the public employment service in Great Britain, 1910-97

Price, D. 2000. Office of hope: A history of the public employment service in Great Britain, 1910-97. London Policy Studies Institute.

TitleOffice of hope: A history of the public employment service in Great Britain, 1910-97
AuthorsPrice, D.


'The author tells a fascinating tale… I am sure that students of contemporary history, social and public administration will regard this history as definitive and that future generations of students will regard it as an essential source and reference. But the book is not for the full-time or part-time student alone. It is for everyone who is fascinated by employment and unemployment, by changing attitudes to those who lose jobs or change jobs and by different theories and approaches to the modernisation and efficiency of government.’
From the foreword by Sir Geoffrey Holland, former Permanent Secretary of the Department of Employment and the Department Education

'This promises to be the key text in understanding the history and role of the ES. I think it would quickly become required reading for those interested in unemployment and how you implement policies to tackle it and would attract specialist readers in other countries (such as Australia and the USA). It would also have a wide readership amongst those interested in the study of Government and the civil service.'
Dan Finn, Reader in Social Policy at the University of Portsmouth

'Public services, like the concept of public service, are currently scorned. Yet, in peace and war, they have been crucial to economic efficiency and the meeting of individual need. The Employment Service, despite its lingering associations with the dole queues of the 1930s, has been a pioneer among such services. Here is the history it deserves, written with great clarity and an authority based on insider knowledge and privileged access to unreleased policy files.'
Rodney Lowe, Professor of Contemporary History in the University of Bristol

Unemployment, one of the great scourges of the last hundred years, has also been one of the most controversial issues in British politics. Governments have intervened in many different ways, but one of their main instruments throughout has been the Employment Service, culminating in Tony Blair’s decision to use the Service to deliver Labour’s New Deal.

Office of Hope is the first full history of the Employment Service, from its creation by Churchill and Beveridge in 1910 right up to 1997. It tells of the origins of the service, its vital role in two world wars, the chaotic response to unemployment in the 1920s, the despair surrounding the Employment Exchanges in the 1930s and their decline after 1945.

The book goes on to tell the fascinating inside story of how Department of Employment civil servants in the 1960s and 1970s persuaded politicians to revolutionise the service to produce the modern Jobcentres. The book reveals acute tensions between employment and social security departments at the time, involving Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Robert Carr and Sir Keith Joseph. Controversy continued and by 1979 Professor Richard Layard was suggesting that the new Jobcentres were actually pushing up unemployment.

The book chronicles the bitter conflict between the Thatcher Government and the Manpower Services Commission over drastic cuts to the service at a time when unemployment soared to 3 million. In 1986, Lord Young, one of Mrs Thatcher’s closest allies, reversed this policy when he introduced systematic interviewing of unemployed claimants under the Restart initiative. This turned the tide of unemployment and helped Mrs Thatcher to win the 1987 Election. Thereafter Norman Fowler abolished the Manpower Services Commission and drew the Jobcentres back into the Department of Employment as an Agency, with an agenda known to civil servants as the ‘Stricter Benefit Regime’, leading to the Jobseeker’s Allowance in the mid-1990s. The book tells for the first time the inside story of how this change came about.

The book draws both on unpublished files and on the experience of the author who served in the senior management of the service from 1972-1995. He concludes with reflections on the tensions between three competing models of the service - making the labour market more transparent, controlling benefit expenditure and promoting social welfare. He discusses the service today and its role under Blair’s New Deal.


Origins to 1914
Time of Trial 1914-18
The ‘Ten Year Chaos’ 1918-29
Office of Despair? 1929-39
Mobilising the Masses1939-45
Post-War Full Employment1945-60
The Stirring of Reform 1960-70
Modernisation 1970-74
The New Model Employment Service 1974-79
The Challenge of Thatcherism 1979- 81
The Era of Peter Morrison 1981-85
Lord Young’s Revolution 1985-87
Warfare and Welfare 1987-90
The Employment Service as an Agency 1990-93
The Jobseeker’s Allowance 1993-97

PublisherPolicy Studies Institute
Publication dates
Place of publicationLondon

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