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Support for Armed Forces

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

The Petition of Residents of Castle Point and others,

Declares that members of HM Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting and dying, and that they lack basic equipment to do their job and there is insufficient appreciation and support from the Government for them and their families, particularly when they return from active service, and, in welcoming the provision of limited free postage, feel that the Government should go much further to give help and recognition.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to adopt more generous policies for serving and returning members of HM Armed Forces, and to give them priority in housing, in recognition of the contribution made by these brave men and women.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 7 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 128.] [P000102]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence:

I am heartened by the recognition by the residents of Castle Point for the commitment, bravery and professionalism of our armed forces in all their operations. They will further recognise the enormous contribution made by Service families to the effectiveness of those forces and the debt owed by the nation to veterans. I would like to add that we announced on 13 December, that the Government has commissioned an independent study into how the British public can better express its support and gratitude for the nation's armed forces.

On provision of equipment, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) takes all the measures possible to ensure that the equipment issued to the armed forces is both right for the job and right for them. Its quality and versatility is higher than it has ever been, and we continually work to improve its range and reliability. The Equipment Programme is designed to deliver the long-term core capabilities our forces need, complemented by the Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) process which provides the speed and flexibility needed to adapt and respond to specific operational environments and emerging threats. Over £1.5 billion of Force Protection UORs have been approved for Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003 in response to the specific conditions and changing threat.

The welfare of personnel and their families is core to MOD business, and there are comprehensive measures in place to ensure that we give the best possible support to all concerned. The highest priority is placed on supporting the families of those who have given their lives or have been injured in the service of their country, and robust procedures ensure that all concerned receive the help they require to come to terms with injury, or life without loved ones. Turning to the wider MOD Deployment Welfare Package, this is an extensive and integrated programme of welfare provision that includes: unlimited free Forces Aerogramme letter post, Electronic Aerogrammes (where available) and a free postal packet service, welfare telephones including satellite telephones in forward locations (30 minutes free calls per person per week to anywhere in the world) are also available, as is free e-mail and Internet access. Back home, concessionary travel allowances are provided for families to enable them to keep in touch with immediate relatives. On return from an operational tour, a leave of 20 working days for a six-month deployment is provided, A tax-free “Operational Allowance” of £2,320 for a six-month deployment is also payable.

On housing, personnel and their families deserve decent accommodation and we are committed to providing this. There is no quick fix and a legacy of decades of under-funding along with the size of the living accommodation estate means that tackling all shortcomings will take time. We plan to spend over £8 billion on accommodation over the next 10 years. Separately, Service personnel are encouraged to prepare for their return to civilian life by purchasing their own homes, and MOD has initiatives to assist. In areas where housing is more costly—such as London, MOD has negotiated Key Worker status. MOD also provides a Joint Service Housing Advice Office which offers advice and information in sourcing accommodation. The Government is amending housing legislation to ensure that Service personnel leaving the Services are placed on an equal footing with civilians when applying for social housing. Currently, under housing legislation, former Service personnel cannot establish a local connection with the area in which they have worked or lived while serving with the Armed Forces for the purposes of establishing priority for social housing. However, the Housing and Regeneration Bill which is currently before Parliament will rectify this and ensure that Servicemen and women looking for social housing are treated fairly.