Veterans are being “failed” by the Tories on mental health, housing and jobs on civvy street, Labour claims today.
MPs vote tonight on the Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill, which the Government says will “help prevent service personnel and veterans being disadvantaged when accessing services like healthcare, education and housing”.
But Labour pointed to a series of issues where it believes heroes are being let down – and says the legislation is a “missed opportunity to make the Covenant a reality”.
Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Morgan highlighted pledges on troops’ welfare already contained in the Covenant, which says: “Veterans should be able to access mental health professionals who have an understanding of Armed Forces culture.”
But he cited statistics showing the average waiting time for face-to-face appointments to be offered under veterans’ Transition, Intervention and Liaison mental health services in England was 37 days in 2020, against a government target of 14.
It took 70 days for treatment to begin.
He also highlighted research by King’s College London published last August showing that compared to men in the general population, British male veterans “report a higher prevalence of common mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol misuse”.
On housing, the annual Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2020 showed just 51% of personnel were satisfied with the standard of their service accommodation – a drop from 58% in 2014.
Yet the Covenant says: “Where Serving personnel are entitled to publicly provided accommodation, it should be of good quality, affordable and suitably located.”
The Mirror revealed on the weekend how three out of five troops applying for help to get on the property ladder through the Forces Help to Buy scheme were rejected.
Labour also pointed to figures published last month about servicemen and women getting jobs on civvy street having left the Forces using the Ministry of Defence’s Career Transition Partnership.
According to a Whitehall report, “of the 2019/20 UK regular service leavers who used a billable CTP service, and reported their employment outcomes six months after leaving service”, seven per cent were unemployed in 2019/20.
That compared with average unemployment in the UK as a whole of about four per cent over the period.
Mr Morgan said: “Ministers like to talk up their commitment to our service communities but the truth is they are failing our forces.
“From substandard accommodation to veterans’ mental health, there are unfortunately many areas where the laudable commitments made in the Armed Forces Covenant are not the reality experienced by our Armed Forces.
“Labour stands firmly behind our Armed Forces, and supports the aim of this Bill, but will challenge the Government to make sure it delivers on the Covenant in full for every member of our armed forces, veterans and their families.”
Johnny Mercer said: “This momentous Bill builds on the important progress already made by the Armed Forces Covenant, by giving it the legal standing to deliver fairness for our Armed Forces community right across the United Kingdom.
“This legislation will prevent the Armed Forces Community being disadvantaged in the delivery of public-services, which is why we have rightly focussed it on healthcare, education and housing.
“The Labour Party are aware of this but once again have shown they are more interested in appearing patriotic than supporting legislation that will have a real impact for our troops.”