Sarah Church – Army Veteran and the Labour and Cooperative Party Candidate for South Swindon.

Sarah Church – Army Veteran and the Labour and Cooperative Party Candidate for South Swindon.

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.  

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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.

Follow Sara’s Campaign here on Facebook and Twitter.

“Wales is leading the way in housing solutions for veterans” says Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

“Wales is leading the way in housing solutions for veterans” says Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

On a visit to the Welsh Veteran’s Partnership’s “Coming Home Project” development in Cardiff, Nia Griffith MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, praised the project as a model that should be recreated across the UK.
The “Coming Home Project” aims to provide affordable housing for veterans. The first development has been delivered together with Trivallis and Cardiff City Council and has provided 16 homes for veterans and their families in Cardiff Bay.
The MP for Llanelli, who is Labour’s spokeswoman on defence, was joined on the visit by Stephen Doughty, MP for Cardiff South and Penarth. Of the visit, Nia said: “This is a fantastic initiative by the Welsh Veterans Project and I applaud Cardiff City Council, Trivallis and all those who have come together to make the Coming Home Project a reality.
“It is vital that we support our servicemen and women not only when they’re serving in the Forces, but also in their transition back into civilian life, and having a good quality, affordable home is key to that. Wales is leading the way in housing solutions for veterans, and I hope that this can provide a blueprint for other similar projects across the nation, and the wider UK”.
Stephen Doughty MP, whose constituency the Coming Home Project is in, said:
“Making sure our brave men and women who serve and have served this country are properly housed is a basic duty. As Vice Chair of the Army group in Parliament I have visited service men and women and veterans up and down the country and housing is one of their top concerns.
“Whilst the Tories have overseen 7 years of failure to address the housing crisis in England, Welsh Labour are taking on the issue in Wales and showing the positive impact we can have, and Cardiff Labour is building new homes here.
“The Labour Government in Wales has been leading from the front with innovative housing solutions, investing to build 20,000 new homes in a sustainable way by 2020 and their pioneering strategy to prevent homelessness has now been replicated in England”.

You can find out more about the Welsh Veterans Partnership here.

Labour Lords question the government on the construction timeline for the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate.

Labour Lords question the government on the construction timeline for the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate.

Labour Lords yesterday questioned the government’s timeline for the construction of the Type 31 frigate.

Former First Sea Lord and Labour Peer Admiral Lord West questioned the Government’s ability to deliver the required number of Frigates by the 2035 timeline as laid out in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

During the debate Lord West stated “I cannot see how that can occur by 2035, by which time the oldest of the Type 23s will be 35 years old.”

Lord West highlighted the necessity for a ‘steady drumbeat of ship orders’ if the UK was going to meet its escort arrangements for the fleet.

Concerns were raised throughout the debate about the current underfunded nature of our Defence Budget. The Labour Party is committed to spending at least 2% of our GDP on defence spending.

The Labour Frontbench spokesperson in the Lords, Lord Touhig, pressed the Government on the need to follow Sir John Parker’s report recommendations in ensuring the export potential of the Type 31 Frigate.

The full debate can be read here.

Nia Griffith responds to reports Armed Forces are facing a £10bn funding shortfall

Nia Griffith responds to reports Armed Forces are facing a £10bn funding shortfall

 

Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, commenting on reports our Armed Forces are facing a £10bn funding shortfall, said:

“This is deeply worrying, and the result of years of mistakes and poor decisions made under the Tories.

“The severe cuts imposed on the defence budget since 2010 has led to countless knee-jerk decisions, like scrapping the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, which has left us reliant on allies to track Russian subs off the UK coast.

“Last year we saw the Army shrink below 80,000 for the first time, far short of the Government’s manifesto pledge to keep it above 82,000.

“Further cuts of £1bn each year, to make up for this mis-management of the defence budget, will do yet more severe damage to our Armed Forces. Reports that the Royal Marines could be further cut are particularly concerning.

“On the Today programme, the Defence Secretary kept referring to investment in equipment but he needs to be investing in our forces personnel to ensure that professional standards remain high, and that they are trained to be able to operate and maintain new kit. Our Armed Forces are driven by the hard working men and women who serve and it’s time the Tories recognised that.

“It simply isn’t good enough for ministers to say they can’t verify whether these reports are accurate. They urgently need to get a grip and explain where they intend these savings to come from.”

Our Armed Forces & their families deserve the very best support, it’s time for the Government to treat them with the respect that they deserve – Nia Griffith

Our Armed Forces & their families deserve the very best support, it’s time for the Government to treat them with the respect that they deserve – Nia Griffith

Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body 2017 Report, said:

“This report highlights the serious effect that changes to pay and conditions are having on our Armed Forces. According to the report’s authors, rent rises and changes to tax and benefits have created a “perfect storm” that is putting real pressure on service personnel and their families.

“We have known for some time that Conservative cuts to our Armed Forces have had a crippling effect on morale, but this report issues the stark warning that these pressures must be dealt with, otherwise there will be a widespread effect on recruitment and retention, which could in turn threaten operational effectiveness.

“It is clear from this report that personnel feel overlooked in favour of cost-cutting by the MoD. Our Armed Forces and their families deserve the very best support, it’s time for the Government to treat them with the respect that they deserve.”

Being injured in a conflict zone proved how important Labour is, writes a member of Labour Friends of the Forces

Being injured in a conflict zone proved how important Labour is, writes a member of Labour Friends of the Forces

Peter Apps, Labour Friends of the Forces Supporter has written for Labour List on the subject of how being injured in a conflict zone proved how important the Labour party is to him.

See the full article below:

There’s nothing quite like waking up paralyzed from the shoulders down to remind you why Britain needs a welfare state.

It was September 2006, and I was a young 25-year-old war reporter covering conflict in Sri Lanka for Reuters international news agency. After a series of close escapes, my luck finally ran out with a minibus crash, breaking my neck instantly.

I was, of course, devastated – and more than a little terrified of what the future might bring. On one level, however, I knew I was very lucky – I was British, and if I could get home I probably would be looked after.

It was, inevitably, a very bitter struggle. Even then, at the height of the Blair government, getting social care to get me out of hospital was a pretty vicious fight. But I was able to return to work as a journalist in London, living independently with carers without being a drain on my immediate family.

In the decades since, I faced no shortage of problems. But I’ve kept working, for the last two years, I’ve been Reuters global affairs columnist, a senior commentator on worldwide events.

Some opportunities have been particularly unexpected. Last year, I found myself asked to re-join the British Army Reserve to help provide advice and training on the changing nature of conflict, particularly some of the more interesting forms of information and hybrid warfare. As a former reservist in my university days, I was glad to be able to take the opportunity to give the country something back.

I never forget that I owe this country a huge amount. In very few places would I have had the option of continuing my life in a meaningful way. But I’m also very aware that that debt is owed, in many respects, primarily to the Labour Party.

Without the welfare state created by the Atlee government in 1945, my fate would have been very different. Without the Blair government of 1997, those systems would have lacked the financing and resources to support me as they did.

The same goes for the legislation that allowed me to claim compensation for my accident, eventually allowing me to pay for my own care and accommodation rather than relying on the taxpayer.

To me, the values that led me to join – and then re-join – the armed forces and be a member of the Labour Party are in many ways the same, or at least overlap. My experiences have left me more convinced than ever of the value of service, of systems that protect the weakest and most vulnerable and provide the broadest possible opportunities.

Such broad values, of course, only take us so far – working out how to put them into practice involves some very tough decisions. Resources will always be limited, and there will be no shortage of needs all costs, from defending the country with tanks, jets and aircraft to providing wheelchairs, confidence pads and the most basic personal care.

The Labour Party, like the rest of the country, owes its own debt of gratitude to the armed forces and also has its own responsibilities to them. Just as it exists to provide a safety net for individuals, it needs to provide a credible defence to the country at large. Just as importantly, it needs to do the right thing by the men and women in the armed forces, but when it comes to choosing when they fight and making sure they have the proper equipment, training and resources to do so.

Hopefully, the Labour Friends of the Forces can be a part of that process. Because it’s going to be badly needed in the years and decades to come.

You can find out more of the work of Labour Friends of the Forces and join as a supporter here.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist, a British Army reservist and a member of the Labour Party.

https://labourlist.org/2017/03/being-injured-in-a-conflict-zone-proved-how-important-labour-is-writes-a-member-of-labour-friends-of-the-forces/

Defence Questions Round-Up

Defence Questions Round-Up

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.