It began life as the Social Welfare Association for London in 1910, inaugurated at a meeting at Mansion House with the active support of both the Lord Mayor of London and the chairman of the London County Council.
The aim of the association was to "secure systematic co-operation between social, charitable and industrial undertakings throughout the metropolis, and the establishment of councils of social welfare in every metropolitan borough to give effect to these objects" - and our function remains much the same today, being the conduit between the voluntary and community sector in London and the other sectors. The organisation has led to the formation of many household names including NCVO, the National Council for One Parent Families, Citizen Advice and began the process of ensuring every borough had a Council for Voluntary Service.
So, what was London like in 1910? With a population of 7,160,441 it was 1.5 million people smaller than present day London, labour exchanges had just been introduced and the year would see the last General Election when women could not vote. But photographs from the period also show children and families in abject poverty, high rates of infant mortality and a disregard for the rights of a human being to have somewhere safe to live and enough to eat. The formation of an organisation to bring some order to the social action which Victorian philanthropists had started was obviously necessary but is it needed now?
Sadly it only needs a glance at the latest figures from Trust for London's poverty profile to see where we are today, and why voluntary action is still vital. 27% of Londoners live in poverty compared with 20% in the rest of England; the majority of people living in poverty are in a working family; almost 700,000 jobs in London (18%) pay below the London Living Wage - a number that has increased for five consecutive years, particularly among men working full-time.
There are more people in poverty in private rented housing than there are in social rented or owner-occupied homes. A decade ago it was the least common tenure among those in poverty but back in 1910 it would have been the norm - are we sliding back? 592,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, 37 per cent of all children in the capital. London has the highest rate of child poverty of any English region, and there are as many poor children in London as in all of Scotland and Wales - a disgraceful statistic for the capital of a country with the 5th largest economy in the world.
Comparisons between William Booth's maps of poverty and present day ill health data show the same areas highlighted - the reasons may be different but the fact remains that poverty in London is by no means things of the past and the need for our sector, in all its variety, is as great as it ever has been. The State is shrinking, safety nets are disappearing - we hope there will be no need for us in 50 years' time but the signs are not promising. LVSC, and the sector we serve, will always be here for as long as Londoners need us.
(Photo of candles - Steve Jurvetson via Flickr - reproduced under Creative Common Licence )