By Maria Eagle MP and Jim Murphy MP in Labourlist
Labour has today demanded that train Operating Companies deliver cheaper travel for UK veterans. The nature of military service is unique and those who serve in the dust and danger of overseas battlefields deserve unique support.
We all know how important travel is to a sense of freedom and individuality, and we all want those who have shown courage and ingenuity on behalf of their country to be able to travel at will.
The Government has fallen short in the protection of the service community. Funding to housing is going in reverse, allowances to those on the frontline have been cut and the Defence Secretary is on the airwaves pleading with the Chancellor to protect important defence capabilities. For veterans, the Annual Covenant Report 2012 makes no proposals to reduce the costs of their transport.
Labour has recommended that every council has a Veterans’ Champion, that carers of injured service-leavers get paid leave to care for loved ones, that businesses support veterans in to work and that families of fallen heroes have the option to name streets after them should they choose. Labour believes in a constant commemoration and celebration of the contribution our forces and their families make to our country. That is why today we are calling on concessionary travel to be provided to all who have served their country.
Government must work with businesses in all sectors to ensure there is lifelong support for those who serve their nation. Service personnel’s struggles and sacrifices often do not end when they leave the battlefield. Providing concessionary travel for UK veterans would be a meaningful move to support those who have given so much to our country.
Currently the ‘HM Forces Railcard’ saves service personnel a third on rail fares. We are proposing this is extended to the 333,000 veterans who are on the Armed Forces Pension Scheme. This would have no cost to the public purse as the HM Forces Railcard is a concession provided by the train operating companies whose combined profits in 2011-12 totalled £305m. It is only right that a small proportion of these multi-million pound profits are in future used to support those who serve in the name of national security.
Everyone has a duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with the service community. We are confident that the private train operators will want to do the right thing and make travelling by train more affordable for all those who serve. If they cannot voluntarily bring forward a scheme this year then Ministers must act to make it a condition of all future train operating contracts.
This is part of a cultural shift where we want to see our society better recognise and value the wisdom and experience of service. Polling shows nearly two thirds of the public consider that there is too little recognition for the Armed Forces. Labour is and will continue to be on their side and each of us should ask what we, our communities and our businesses can do to protect and support those who keep our country safe.
Maria Eagle is the Shadow Transport Secretary and Jim Murphy is the Shadow Defence Secretary