Jim Murphy: Let’s Honour Forces’ Families

Jim Murphy - sittingBy Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Strong military families make strong military communities. The quiet courage of those back home who support service personnel overseas is the backbone of the Armed Forces.

Last year over 1,000 service personnel suffered major injury. The care provided by the Services and our health professionals is first class, but service men and women’s sacrifices and bravery do not end when they leave the battlefield. The impact of injury, whether physical or mental, can be lasting and demand long-term care, and often it is family members who take care of loved ones hurt in the line of duty.

In the United States the pivotal role of military families is recognised by government in the form of ‘military family leave provisions’, which entitle family members to unpaid leave for medical reasons. If a next of kin returns from the frontline injured, US public sector workers are entitled to up to twenty six weeks’ leave, depending on certain criteria. This currently applies to families of National Guard members and Reservists, but Barack Obama is now seeking to extend this to families of all members of the Regular Forces.

The UK has important carers’ and employment rights, mainly implemented by the Labour Government, but no specific working leave rights for carers of service personnel or veterans. The military covenant says that no-one in the service community should be disadvantaged as a result of service, and so military families, which are in a different way units of their own, should have the support they need to provide a caring role.

Last December David Cameron announced the creation of a Cabinet sub-committee to look after all aspects of service personnel and veterans’ welfare. “One of its first priorities will be to address the challenges facing hundreds of troops returning from the frontline in Afghanistan. In the coming year, I will make sure we deliver”, he said. It is a real disappointment however, that since then the Committee has met just once and achieved nothing.

Today Labour is demanding that this Committee takes its first meaningful step and looks at whether more rights can be given to the carers of injured service personnel or veterans. In consultation with all relevant major employers, trade unions and charities the Committee should establish whether a best practice or ‘gold standard’ of treatment for military family members could be set voluntarily amongst both private and public sector employers.

The country will expect leadership on this issue. This is a test of whether or not David Cameron is serious about improving the rights of service personnel and veterans, or more concerned with superficially attractive announcements that mean nothing in practice. The Defence Select Committee recently said it was “surprised” that the MoD is not prepared to review the support it offers to families of Armed Forces personnel. A real change must now be closely considered.

Each country around the world honours their military community differently. The United States has Arlington National Cemetery. Commonwealth countries recognise Remembrance Day. Here images of ceremonies in Whitehall and across the nations of the UK stir us all. But that is not to say we cannot learn from our allies. President Obama is prioritising Forces’ care yet David Cameron too often does not match his own rhetoric with action. The recent Budget confirmed a net cut to housing upgrades, frontline allowances have been slashed and morale is falling.

The unique nature of military service too often goes unrecognised and misunderstood. The burden of Service falls on families too, whose sacrifices themselves are significant. Families miss out on special moments with those they love, whether birthdays or anniversaries or just sharing a simple family day, not to mention the sacrifice of those who move around the country and who live in with fear for those who fight in our name. It is often families’ who deal with the long-term consequences of conflicts which protect us and others around the world. We should repay them by making sure they have the ability to care for our Forces.

This article was originally published by Politics Home. Source.

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