Employment of Disabled Ex-Servicemen

As a result of the effects of combat during the First World War, the lack of available employment for disabled ex-servicemen led to Henry Rothband (d. 1940) proposing, in 1917, a scheme named the King’s National Roll Scheme (KNRS), whereby, ‘every company in England and Wales with over ten employees (had) to ensure that no less than 5 per cent of their workforce comprised disabled ex-servicemen’.

The government was initially reluctant to implement the KNRS, but towards the end of 1918 they realized that employment problems were worsening, and a large number of disabled ex-servicemen were set to remain unemployed. This encouraged the state to establish the scheme in September 1919.  The scheme was voluntary, but employers were encouraged to take part by its advertisement as a way of honouring those who had served for their country. It became very successful, with around 89,000 men finding employment through it within a year and continued to be a success until 1944, when the compulsory Disabled Persons’ Employment Act took over.

Attempts to make the scheme compulsory, thus leading to greater employment of disabled ex-servicemen, were always overruled by the War Cabinet. It was, nevertheless, a beneficial way of encouraging employment and enabling disabled ex-servicemen to become more integrated into society.

Birmingham Corporation set up a Sub Committee of the General Purposes Committee  to consider  action on the employment of disabled ex- servicemen. At a meeting of the Sub Committee held on Friday 15 October 1920, consisting of the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor (Alderman W.A. Cadbury), Alderman Lloyd and Councillor Lancaster, a return from the General Purposes Committee was examined which showed the percentage of disabled men employed by the various Corporation departments in relation to the total number of male and female employees.


Minutes of the General Purposes Committee, Special Sub-Committees. October 1920. [BCC/1/AG/38/1/7]

Where departments had a very low percentage, as in the Asylums, Markets and Fairs, and Health departments, the Mayor felt that they should be asked to engage a sufficient number of disabled men to bring the proportion up to the 5% minimum.

The City Council had to set an example before other employers in the city could be asked. The Electric Supply, Estates, Gas and Public Works, Stables and Water departments had already signed undertakings under the Scheme but it was decided it was preferable to have the Corporation registered as a whole.  Counted like that, the actual percentage of disabled employees was 7.31%.

Minutes of the General Purposes Committee. Special Sub-Committee. October 1920.  [BCC/1/AG/38/1/7]

Minutes of the General Purposes Committee. Special Sub-Committee. October 1920.

The Birmingham Training Committee had submitted a letter indicating that there were 166 men on the records of the War Pensions Committee who were ‘quite unfit for either training or employment or who were, on account of physical disabilities, only capable of very light work indeed.’

The Lord Mayor suggested that the Sub-Committee send a letter to all Departments requesting them to take on one of these men for every 500 employees, with a maximum of 5 per department.

The return illustrated also shows the increase in women employees in the City Council workforce as a result of the War, with information on employment undertaken.

Fiona Tait, Archivist.

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