On Monday 13th March Defence Questions took place in the House of Commons Chamber. Below is a brief overview of some of the issues Labour MP’s raised with the Ministry of Defence in relation to our Armed Forces.
Service Family Accommodation
The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2016 showed a significant drop in satisfaction amongst those living in Service Family Accommodation with a decrease of 7 percentage points to just 50%.
Liz McInnes, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton asked the Minister ‘What steps his Department was taking to improve standards in service family accommodation’.
Dan Jarivs, LFOF Patron and Labour MP for Barnsley Central asked the Minister what impact the Government’s future accommodation model will have on retention rates. Stating ‘A recent Army Families Federation survey on the future of military housing showed that if SFA were reduced in favour of a rental allowance, 30% of those surveyed would definitely leave the Army and a further 46% would consider leaving.’
Labour is clear, it is vital that in any effort to make savings the MoD does not abandon their duty of care to Service Personnel and their families.
Armed Forces Covenant
While the Covenant is being delivered well in many areas, we know that provision can be patchy. In fact, research published last year by SSAFA found that just 16% of veterans thought that the Covenant was being implemented effectively.
Holly Lynch, Labour MP for Halifax highlighted the amazing work which is undertaken by the British Legion and other charities in her constituency and across the UK, but warned that the head of SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, has recently stated that the “Armed Forces Covenant lacks bite”.
Lynch raised the point that ‘many local authorities seem to feel that complying with the covenant is an option rather than an obligation’ and asked the Minister to tell the House what actions the Government is taking ‘to reinforce the message of just how essential the covenant is.’
When in government, Labour did much to pave the way for the Armed Forces Covenant, with the first military covenant published in 2000. Labour will always stand up for our Armed Forces and ensure that they have the best support.
Employment for Veterans
Our veterans have so much to offer potential employers because of their specialist skills, their experience and their dedication. And yet some 20% of service leavers are unemployed six months after leaving the Forces – more than four times the unemployment rate amongst the civilian population.
Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central asked ‘what assessment the MoD has made of the adequacy of support available to veterans entering the civilian workforce.’
At the last election, Labour proposed the creation of a Veterans’ Register to make certain our veterans receive proper support on leaving service. Jim Murphy also piloted a Veterans’ Interview Programme in which companies voluntarily guarantee an interview for job-seeking ex-forces personnel
UK Defence Spending
Shadow Defence Minister, Fabian Hamilton MP asked the Secretary of State ‘Is it not time that we went back to the criteria used for defence spending when the Labour party was in power so that we may give our armed forces the resources they need?
The protection of the British people will always be our first priority and Labour remains committed to Britain’s NATO membership and to spending at least 2% of our GDP on defence. In government, Labour consistently spent well above 2% on defence, it is only under the Tories that we have come close to missing that target.
The Government’s cuts since 2010 have demoralised our Armed Forces and weakened our defence capabilities. As well as making cuts, the Government has changed the way that our 2% of GDP defence spending is calculated
Campaign against Daesh
Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and LFOF Champion highlighted the positive role our troops are playing in the region stating:
‘we have obviously seen significant success in Mosul in recent months, and I am sure that the whole House joins me in sending our prayers and gratitude to those serving in our forces, but can [the Minister] tell us what lessons we are learning from our success in Mosul, so that we can apply them effectively to the battle in Raqqa?
Labour supports the RAF as they engage in Operation Shader to combat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The Shadow Defence Team recently visited RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus to meet crews from 903 Expeditionary Airwing who are involved in the operation.
Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith MP raised concerns that there is currently no specific medal to recognise the dedication and bravery of the servicemen and women on Operation Shader.
Labour are asking the MoD to now commit to recognising their service with a specific Operation Shader medal.
Conditions in Barracks
Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham highlighted the ‘squalid’ conditions in some UK Barracks stating:
‘We continue to hear stories of our service personnel being forced to live without heating and sometimes without being able to take a shower for days, as detailed in recent reports about the Wellington and Baker barracks. Do the Government really think it is acceptable to leave our brave servicemen and women in such squalid conditions?’
It is vital that in any effort to make savings the MoD does not abandon their duty of care to Service Personnel.