Help For Heroes
Alan Thomas examines the ing’s National Roll Scheme set up just after World War I.
LE ignored by historians and commentators alike, the ing’s National Roll Scheme was a most important piece of legislation for disabled ex-servicemen, of whom there were almost two million when World War I ended.
The return home of such a large number from the conflict challenged the widespread belief that disabled people were a burden, and such was the scale of national grief at the time, something just had to change this ideology.
During the hostilities a British public servant, Henry Lesser Rothband, later Sir Henry, had campaigned tirelessly for a scheme aimed at finding employment for injured soldiers and sailors, and in 1917 published a widely read book on the subject.
Further traction was given to his ideas when the British Legion lobbied the government for a law that would oblige employers to engage disabled ex-servicemen.
These pleadings, together with a growing concern, culminated in ing George V issuing a proclamation in which the ing’s National Roll Scheme was promulgated.
The scheme called for five per cent of any business establishment to be reserved for the employment of those servicemen who had been disabled in the conflict.
Employers who fulfilled this Quota were allowed to imprint on their business stationery a special design with the words “National Scheme for Disabled Men”.
Having this emblem, known as the Seal of Honour, on the stationery made it easy to distinguish the patriotic from the unpatriotic employer.
In addition, each employer who complied was given a numbered certificate from the Ministry of Labour, a document that was often framed and placed in a position of prominence in business premises.
There were reported incidences of hostility to the scheme by some trade unions and employers, but it was made abundantly clear to them, in no uncertain terms, that it was their duty to accord exceptional treatment to the brave men who had been injured in the war.
In an effort to placate the unions, they were given assurances that the scheme was in no way aimed at the dilution of skilled by unskilled labour.
It was further stressed that the primary object was to absorb injured exservicemen into occupations for which no special training was required, and with regard to rates of remuneration, in no case at all was the possession of a disability pension allowed to be taken into account when computing the rate of pay.
The scheme was given more teeth when it was announced that when it came to placing government contracts, priority would be given to those companies on the ing’s National Roll.
Clearly, the government was leading the way by restricting contracts to those employers enrolled in the scheme, unless special circumstances dictated otherwise.
By 1920, 17,000 establishments were employing 155,000 under the scheme, and in 1926 it was reported that these figures had increased to 2 ,000 and 365,000 respectively.
Regional committees were appointed and tasked to canvas and enrol business establishments into the scheme, and also observe that those already registered were meeting their commitments.
In addition, they had authority vested in them to reduce the percentage required for qualification when warranted by special circumstances.
Despite repeated exhortations, many municipal and other public bodies failed to follow the lead given by the government, with only 172 out of a total of 2, 21 meeting their obligations.
Amazingly, the scheme which made such a valuable contribution towards alleviating employment problems of disabled heroes of WWI is rarely mentioned. However, it remained active until the passing of the 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act which decreed that preference was to be given to disabled persons who had served in the armed forces of the Crown.
King George V.
Five per cent of businesses were to be reserved for injured ex-servicemen.