9 days to go
Saturday 30th June 2012
By Kevan Jones MP, Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces and former Minister for Veterans.
We must together to improve the lot of service personnel and veterans
An important report into the treatment of armed forces personnel and veterans in British society has recently been released, and many of its findings make for very concerning reading. Among other things it found that 18% of Forces had been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere, and that 20% had received abuse in the street when in uniform. That is why Ed Miliband and the Labour Party have called for urgent cross-party talks, involving charities and the military, to investigate ways to end discrimination against the brave men and women of our armed forces. Nobody should suffer as a result of Service and this report has acted as an important wake up call to the problems that many service personnel and veterans face in their civilian life after service.
That said, however, much progress has been made in improving the lives of personnel and veterans in recent years. The previous Government, for example, introduced the Army Recovery Capability (or ARC), which was a key part of our Service Personnel Command Paper. This aimed to streamline important services to support sick or injured soldiers so that they can successfully return to duty or return to civilian life. The ARC introduced Personal Recovery Branches, Personal Recovery Units, Individual Recovery Plans and Personnel Recovery Centres, all of which have provided unprecedented levels of care to both serving soldiers and veterans.
The ARC also introduced a veterans’ tracking system into the NHS so that active service would be permanently flagged up on veterans’ medical records. What was crucial about the ARC was that it sought to care for servicemen and women way beyond the public focus on the early years of post-service life. For the first time, British veterans were being offered what their heroic service demanded: real, long-term educational, welfare, social and health support.
Armed forces personnel have also benefitted from the extra help with mortgages introduced in 2008. Although we can always go further, these are the kind of benefits which active service in the nation’s armed forces warrants and these are the kind of benefits which should be continued and extended wherever possible.
Issues relating to armed forces personnel and veterans must of course be above party political posturing. We will back the Government when we think they are doing the right thing by our armed forces. I am proud to say that the Labour Shadow Defence team supported the enshrining of the Military Covenant into law, but Ministers must make good on their pledges to provide vital protections for forces personnel and their families. The Government’s warm words are simply not enough.
That is why, despite all of these improvements, we cannot be complacent about how we treat our armed forces personnel, especially in the light of recent findings detailed in the report.
We have been honest about the fact that, if we were in government right now, we would be making cuts to the Defence budget. But given the unique nature of military service there is a very strong case for treating armed forces personnel differently from the rest of the public sector and exempting them from many of the changes elsewhere. We ask our armed forces to risk all on our behalf and in return we must support them properly, giving them the equipment and the training that they need to do the job that we ask them to do. Service personnel are often separated from family and loved ones for many months at a time, and often work in extremely dangerous situations. They forego several political freedoms and contractual rights they might enjoy in other occupations. The sacrifices they make for the country mean they should not be treated as other public sector workers and deserve special recognition.
Profound concerns about the current state of morale abound. Take, for example, the reforms to both armed forces’ and war widows’ pensions. According to the Forces Pension Society, a disabled double amputee 28 year old Corporal would lose £587,000 by age 70. A 40 year old squadron leader would lose £319,000 by age 85. A war widow with children would receive a basic per annum pension that would be £94 less next year. On top of a pay freeze, wave after wave of redundancies, it is no wonder that morale is so low.
These issues must be addressed seriously and systematically, just as the report into perception of the Forces must be acted upon. Ahead of Armed Forces Day on 30th June, it is essential that all political parties come together and do the right thing by service personnel and veterans.