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Service Families (Welfare)

Volume 542: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

All the services have long-standing welfare structures in place to support families. We continually review that support to identify where it can be further improved, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a number of measures last Wednesday to support service families. They included £3 million made available to double, again, to 100% the council tax rebate for deployed service personnel; £2 million allocated to double the rate of the families welfare grant, which is available to commanding officers to use as they see fit on activities for the families of those deployed; and an additional investment of £100 million in 2013-14 to improve service accommodation.

My hon. Friend raises a very good point, and I should say that in general, service children have a rather better than average attainment record in schools. We have several schemes, one of which is the continuity of education allowance, which allows children to remain in one school while their parents move around the world or the country. Another is the pupil premium that we have introduced, run by the Department for Education, under which each child carries a passport of money for their school. Schools very much welcome that.

I join the Secretary of State in expressing sincere sympathy at the tragic deaths of the soldiers in Afghanistan.

Can the Minister confirm that homes at military bases in Northern Ireland such as Aldergrove will be upgraded to improve living conditions for all our military families?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. It is rather like painting the Forth road bridge—or is it the rail bridge? I can never remember. [Interruption.] The rail bridge—I am grateful. It is ongoing—[Hon. Members: “Not any more.”] Apparently, they have found a new paint in Scotland. Nevertheless, we will continue to work on all Army quarters. The last Government took great steps to improve service family accommodation, and we are continuing that work.

Following on from the support that is given to serving personnel, what support is given to veterans and their families through extra funding for centres such as the Wirral veterans contact centre, which was set up in 2011 specifically for that purpose?

If my hon. Friend would like to speak to me about that centre, I would be very happy to look into it. I have to say that I have not heard of it before. We work very closely with all the service charities in the voluntary sector to support ex-service personnel, and we also do a great deal of work through the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and other organisations to support ex-service personnel.

I welcome the announcements in the Budget targeted at forces families’ welfare, but I hope the Minister occasionally reads the Army Families Federation website and blog. If so, he will see how the announcement on housing is being received. One blog post reads that

“it’s difficult to regard as new money and is still £40 million short of that allocated and withdrawn last year…it does not begin to answer the problems surrounding the rebasing of families from Germany.”

Is he embarrassed that the Chancellor’s announcement does not even make up for last year’s cut?

I really do think, first, that Opposition Members should remember that we are struggling in a very difficult financial situation caused by the last Government. Secondly, the hon. Lady should not believe every word that appears on every blog on the internet, because there are rather a lot of them. Thirdly, I was most interested to discover that the shadow team led by the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) had been issuing joint press statements with service charities, which I have to say I find very surprising. I am rather disappointed if the Royal British Legion is sending out joint press statements with the shadow Defence team, as was said in a very reputable newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, yesterday.