Sarah Church – Army Veteran and the Labour and Cooperative Party Candidate for South Swindon writes for Labour Friends of the Forces on her campaign and recent meeting with the Gurkah community in Walcot.
Today’s meeting with members of the retired Gurkha community in Walcot, Swindon was a real pleasure and a reminder of how much I enjoyed serving with the Queen’s Gurkha Signals as a young officer.
Lal Pun, along with Borough Councillors Abdul Amin and Junab Ali, introduced me to the group of long-retired soldiers and their families. We spoke about Labour’s record in bringing Gurkha Terms and Conditions of Service in line with their British counterparts in 2007, but the continuing unfairness of the pension arrangement that has left retired Gurkhas feeling like second-class citizens compared with British and Commonwealth soldiers.
The most recent campaign fell on deaf ears in Parliament in 2016, and I have promised to sit down with Lal Pun to find a way to relaunch the debate to make progress. There is much hope for a Labour government within this community, borne from the recognition that Labour is a people-centred party that will always work for those facing injustice.
It has been acknowledged that the expectations of ex-Gurkhas changed as service became increasingly based in the UK and Germany, rather than in the Far East after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. However, the pension system was slow to catch up and therefore many retired Gurkha soldiers are living on pension rates far below that of their more recently retired counterparts, and consequently are struggling to get by.
Settlement in Nepal is not always straightforward since Gurkha families include children who have grown up in the UK and call it home, and to expect families to split over thousands of miles is unreasonable, but the cost of living differential between our two countries is very marked.
The Government has decided it will not consider retrospective application of pension changes, but this leaves a generation of ex- Gurkhas, men who have risked their lives for the UK, living on pensions that do not keep up with the British cost of living and are a poor way in which to thank them for their service.