Last week we marked Armed Forced Day, a chance for us to show our support for service personnel and the work they do protecting us all. Every year, 15,000 troops finish their service and join the ranks of their fellow veterans; unfortunately,many of these new veterans will face numerous hurdles and complex difficulties in their transition to civilian life.
There are a multitude of problems facing veterans in this country. Some of our veterans may have complex mental and physical healthcare needs that require appropriate compensation and treatment. Others might be struggling to find suitable housing or stable employment after finishing their service. Millions of people up and down the country have been affected by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, but the impact of the current economic climate has had a disproportionate impact on veterans.
Last October, the Royal British Legion announced it had issued 20% more grants than it had in the previous 12 months as members of the Armed Forces community struggled to afford their fuel bills, while the numbers of veterans claiming support via Universal Credit skyrocketed by over 50%.
No one should be struggling to afford the necessities, especially those who served our country. The Armed Forces are essential to our national defence, our national resilience,and our NATO obligations. Ensuring that our veterans receive the appropriate care and support is the bare minimum that we should be doing, but many of our veterans are struggling to receive even that.
Parliament was passing legislation over 400 years ago regarding the needs of veterans to receive proper care and support in return for their service, so how is it that centuries later we are still failing them? Raising awareness of the issues facing veterans is vital, which is why I was honoured to lead a debate in Parliament last week regarding Veterans UK.
Veterans UK is part of the Ministry of Defence, set up to ensure that ex-service personnel receive the support from the Government, local authorities, independent bodies, and the charity sector that they may need. They are also responsible for managing the Veterans Welfare Service, the Defence Transition Services and injury and bereavement compensation scheme payments.
During the debate, I spoke about the findings of a survey conducted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Veterans, in which over 75% of respondents branded their experienceswith Veterans UK as either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, but what I found most striking were the comments left by our veterans.
One wrote that “the process had broken me mentally to the point where my choice was walk away or commit suicide.”Another said that “My dealings with this organisation would lead me to believe it is set up to cause deliberate harm to veterans – it is a disgrace.”
How is it that after years of service we have veterans who are left broken by their interactions with the body that is ostensibly there to provide them support? The Minister for Veterans Affairs himself admitted that “for too long veterans services have suffered from under-investment, and been over-reliant on paper records and outdated tech.”
An Independent Review of the UK Government’s Welfare Services is currently underway. If the Government wants to get serious about veteran care, then I suggest ensuring that their departments are bound by the terms of the Armed Forces Covenant, a duty they have placed on other public bodies, but not themselves.
I was a councillor in Sheffield when we among the first signatories to the Armed Forces Covenant. I was proud that the city I represented enshrined the principles of the covenant into our working practices, and I’m even prouder now that the Labour Party has pledged to incorporate the covenant into law.
As Pride Month draws to a close, it would be remis of me not to highlight the historic injustices that our LGBT+ Veterans have suffered through. Thousands of our Armed Forced personal were expelled from the forces, tarnished with blemished service records, forced to live without their pensions, and in some cases even jailed – simply for being in a same-sex relationship.
During the debate, I was promised that the report would be “published very soon.” For the sake of our LGBT+ Veterans, this cannot be delayed any further.
This Armed Forces Day has shed new light on the failures by this Government to honour and support our veterans. They have a long way to go to rebuild trust with this community, this work must begin immediately.
Born and raised in Sheffield, Gill has always lived and worked in the area. Gill entered Parliament as the member for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in 2016 following a by-election. Prior to working in Parliament, Gill was a councillor representing Southey for 16 years.
In Parliament, Gill serves as the Shadow Minister for Roads, and is an active member of several APPGs.