Labour wants to strengthen the Military Covenant by finding new ways to support our Forces. We should start by recognising that Service experience creates not just brilliant soldiers, but also great citizens who have much to give to our country.
We are today launching a new scheme, the Veterans’ Interview Programme (VIP), in which companies voluntarily agree to provide job-seeking ex-Forces with additional help finding work, including guaranteeing an interview and training days specifically for veterans. Leading UK employers, including o2, John Lewis and Centrica, have signed up to the scheme that will, we hope, be part of a cultural shift to give greater recognition to the skills Service-leavers can bring to workplaces and increased opportunities for those returning from the frontline. Other organisations taking part include the English Rugby Football Union, the Scottish Football Association as well as Celtic and Tottenham Football Clubs.
We all know that servicemen and women’s struggles, sacrifices and courage do not end when they leave the battlefield. Whether through injury, trauma, or even prejudice, huge challenges exist for veterans on their return. Our solution is not preferential treatment, but rather ensuring there is a level playing field for Service-leavers to provide for a family or put their children through education. At the centre of that is employment.
There is a big debate about the Government’s policy of mass Armed Forces redundancies at a time of recession, but that is for another day (probably tomorrow when the Government outlines the impact cutting the Army by 20,000). However, it should be a matter of all-party consensus that there must be a better way of serving our heroes, including those who have served in Afghanistan, than simply expecting them to join the back of the queue at the local job centre.
The talents of those leaving the military can be assets to business. Service provides people with organisational, team-building, leadership and quick-thinking skills. The ability to act under pressure is as important in the workplace as it is on the frontline, so we want to increase awareness of the transferable talents which military people can use in civilian life.
While all Governments try to support Service leavers, many have told us that they do not know where to look for work. Either the ‘resettlement’ programme provided by government was insufficiently personalised or they were unaware of suitable vacancies.
The VIP initiative has brought business and service people together, matching valuable experience with business needs. The commitment shown by participating companies in the current climate only underlines our country’s respect for the Service community. This scheme is voluntary and valuable, and I hope all parties, charities and many businesses will get involved.
It is all of our duty to help provide a smooth transition from military to civilian life, and this is a major focus of Labour’s ‘Future Military Covenant’ policy review. The VIP scheme is one of a number of measures we believe can make a difference.
We have argued that ex-Forces who want it should have priority access on the Work Programme, before the current three month threshold. We are also campaigning to end discrimination against the Armed Forces. Cross-party talks are set to take place and will, we hope, examine whether new legal protections, such as those that exist for other groups, are necessary, in particular in the field of employment.
We also believe that there should be more opportunities for academic training, employment advice or even work experience during Service. The Government should work with the Military and all providers to examine increasing in-Service training opportunities.
Veterans can sometimes become ‘lost’ members of society. At present Service-leavers are not tracked when they leave and government does not record whether they become claimants or find employment. More can be done to improve our understanding of what happens to veterans to improve the opportunities we offer. The MoD, DWP and charities should work together to see whether we can better track those who leave.
Today’s announcement shows that Labour is out of government but not out of power. Opposition is about making criticisms when necessary but it’s also about making a difference when you can. We aim to demonstrate our commitment to the service community by working with all who want to see our veterans supported, increasing employment and opportunity for those who keep us safe.
This article was originally published on PoliticsHome on 4th July 2012