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Without Benefits: The First World War Screevers
Attracted by a little crowd at the side of one of the broad pavement spaces in Kingsway the other morning I drew near and found a lady volubly declaiming against the Government and the War Office, because of the sight there to be witnessed.
It was that of a man engaged in making crayon pictures. There was nothing strange in that, as pavement artists are common enough; and women have recently joined the craft, usually on the plea of children to support through a husband having been killed in the war.
But this man was obviously very new to the work, for his drawings were crude even for a pavement artist. He had scrawled on the pavement a notice to this effect: “A member of the original Expeditionary Force to France; gassed and wounded at Ypres, suffering from a paralysed arm, discharged from the Army, and unable to get work. Anyone interested may inspect my discharge papers.”
Here was the source of the lady’s indignation. The man seemed to be getting a fair share of coppers, but the spectacle was a depressing one. Next day the disagreeable impression it left on my mind was emphasised by the announcement of another pavement artist I saw at work near Euston Station to the effect that he had been severely wounded during the retreat from Mons.
It is to be hoped that the Pensions Question will soon be settled, as this kind of thing is rather humiliating to the nation, to say nothing of its effect on the men themselves.
Published in the Cheltenham Looker-On (Saturday 16th September 1916)
Following the political embarrassment of so many injured service men being discharged and forced to work on the streets as pavement artists and beggars: In 1916 a Parliamentary Select Committee recommended that the existing pension provisions should be incorporated into one War Pension Scheme administered by a new Department. In 1917 the Ministry of Pensions was established, later becoming the Department of Social Security.
Although this didn’t completely solve the problem, it eventually led to the establishment of a living War Pension for ex-servicemen and a social security benefits system for the unemployed in Britain by 1947.
Written & researched by Philip Battle
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