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, feels 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, 4 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1717.]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence:
The Government recognise the commitment, bravery and professionalism of our armed forces in all their operations. They further recognise the enormous contribution made by Service families to the effectiveness of those forces and the debt owed by the nation to veterans.
The Government commissioned an independent study into how the British public could better express its support and gratitude for the nation’s armed forces. The results of the National Recognition Study were published in May 2008. The MOD formally responded to the study in October 2008, accepting the vast majority of its recommendations about ways to encourage greater public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces.
In July 2008 the Government published Command Paper 7424—“The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans”. Housing and welfare matters are further addressed below.
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 £4 billion has been approved for UORs providing commanders on the ground with the equipment they have asked for.
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. The MOD will invest some £8 billion during the next decade on the accommodation estate, of which some £3 billion will be on upgrading and improvement to the top standard, and £2 billion on maintenance and refurbishment. Tackling the problems that have arisen as a result of decades of under-funding, combined with the size of the living accommodation estate, means this will take time, but we are delivering real improvements, both in the UK and overseas, and an increasing proportion of our accommodation is good. Alternatively, important steps have already been taken to assist Service personnel with home ownership and improve access to affordable housing, including the “Long Service Advance of Pay” interest free loan. More recently, all Service personnel in England now have Key Worker status. The Government are also extending this to enable Service leavers to access the Key Worker Living scheme 12 months after discharge. Access to similar schemes in Scotland and Wales is being considered. On 19 March 2008, the Prime Minister announced a £20 million pilot scheme to respond to the demand for more affordable home ownership for Service men and women. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is currently running an open competition to select partners with which to deliver the scheme to cover a four year period starting in 2009.
The Government are also 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 Act will rectify this and ensure that Servicemen and women looking for social housing are treated fairly.