Before the redundancies from 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) were announced, some 18,000 personnel were leaving the armed forces each year. The rate at which they were leaving was reportedly slowing, too, but in the coming months and years the personnel made redundant in the SDSR will join the regular outflow in returning to civilian life and the capacity of Ministry of Defence resettlement services may be sternly tested. Personnel will be returning to civilian life in a country experiencing a difficult economic situation, and they are likely to be faced with the challenge of high and rising unemployment and living costs.
From a political point of view, it’s important to get the military resettlement process right, particularly in light of the military covenant’s requirement that personnel should suffer no disadvantage as a result of their military service. The Labour party is currently carrying out its own defence review process in order to shape the party’s policies ahead of the 2015 general election, and part of that involves a shadow review of defence welfare initiatives, including resettlement. Through the party’s newly set up Friends of the Forces group, Labour has been asking the veterans themselves about their experiences.
“We want to draw on people’s own experiences because we want our policies to be shaped by reality and by the people who have been through this process, whether they are veterans, family members or serving personnel at the moment,” says the party’s shadow personnel, welfare and veterans minister Gemma Doyle.
“People are concerned about what’s going to happen when they leave. A lot of people are being made redundant, and in trying to offer a service for that many people, well, we want it to be a good service that people are getting.”
Labour’s Friends of the Forces initiative and website has allowed the party to start a consultation process, gathering details about the resettlement experience of veterans to date and gathering opinions from veterans and forces personnel online.
“What people seem to say is that the service was greatly improved under the last government, it came on in leaps and bounds, but also people seem to have had a very varied experience,” says Doyle. “The service does appear to be patchy: in some places it is very good, in other places it definitely could be improved. And I’m not in any way seeking to knock the people that offer this service, they’re doing a good job, but I think what people also want to see is a more personalised service.
“If you’re offered a meeting to discuss your resettlement options and you say ‘it’s not for me at the moment’, that should not see the door closed for you for resettlement support.” Veterans also want a service that “doesn’t just seek to punt people out into the civilian world into any job”, she says. “One that really looks at what they want to do and what their skills are. People coming out of the forces have a huge range of skills, really valuable skills.
“I’m concerned also about the wider issues too. If you’ve been in married quarters and you leave, how do you set up home elsewhere?”
Welfare and morale
The Strategic Defence and Security Review process was designed to bring an out of control defence budget back into line and lay the foundations for Future Force 2020, and Doyle says that welfare issues have taken a back seat as a result, with damaging effect.
“The government have made it perfectly clear that they have cut the defence budget and that they are then making up policies to match that budget, rather than having a proper review deciding what capabilities we wanted as a country and what the shape of our armed forces and the welfare provisions should be,” she says.
“They’ve been very clear that the decisions they have taken have been purely on a financial basis. That has meant that serving personnel and families really being hammered by some of the decisions that have been made. If you add up decisions on pensions, cuts to allowances and the potential loss of service families accommodation it really does have an impact on morale, and the government really need to think about how this impacts on people, not just the serving person but the families as well.”
The government was “dragged kicking and screaming” to enshrine the military covenant, with its principle that personnel should suffer no disadvantage as a result of service, in law, Doyle says.
“They did not want to enshrine the covenant in law and their original legislation did not do it,” she says. “Having dragged them to that point, what we have now been pushing very strongly is that they need to look at how that works in practice, particularly this point of there being no disadvantage. This actually means that public bodies – government departments – need to look at their policies and test them against that measure, and I’m not convinced that work is going on. I’m not sure that what is happening in practice is matching up the provisions that have now been set in legislation.”
The review in opposition
A detailed, publicly consulted defence review in opposition sets something of a precedent in a country which had not seen a full review for over a decade before 2010’s SDSR. The final result of Labour’s multi-year review in opposition may see the party going to the polls in 2015 with a comprehensive set of defence policies from a team that has endeavoured to ‘put in the hours’ when it comes to consultation.
“Before the 2010 election we had committed to doing a proper strategic defence review. It was in our manifesto,” says Doyle. “We didn’t get back into government but we set about doing that review anyway and we’ve published stuff on procurement, we’ve launched a review of future threats, these processes are all on-going.
“There aren’t many benefits to being in opposition, this is one of the few,” she says. “You can do a proper review of policy, and really take a step back, and look at it. And do it in a very considered way and engage all the people who are involved in all these fields. I think that’s the really crucial part of it.”
Labour’s resettlement consultation can be accessed here.
This article is republished from defencemanagement.com. You can view the original here.