The armed forces covenant is the expression of the moral obligation the Government and the nation owe to the armed forces community—those who serve, whether regular or reserve, their families; and veterans and their families. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrines the principles of the covenant in law, and places an obligation on the Defence Secretary to report to Parliament each year on the effects of membership of the armed forces on serving personnel, veterans and their families.
The Government are today publishing the first annual report to be produced under this legislation. The report addresses seven specific groups within the armed forces community, recording what we have done since the last report in 2011 and what we plan to do. It covers the full scope of the covenant, including the fields of health care, education, housing and the operation of inquests.
In the report, I have considered the two key principles: that those who serve in the armed forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services as a consequence of that service; and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given the most, such as the injured and bereaved. Since the coalition Government came to office in 2010, we have:
Doubled the operational allowance for service personnel who deploy on operations overseas, such as in Afghanistan.
Launched the community covenant, supported by a £30 million community covenant grant scheme.
Implemented a range of improvements in mental health care, including an additional 50 mental health professionals conducting outreach work with veterans in England, a 24-hour helpline and a support and advice website.
Specifically over the last 12 months, we have:
Doubled council tax relief again, for those serving on operations overseas, to around £600 for an average six-month tour.
Altered the schools admissions code to allow all schools in England to allocate a place in advance of a service family arriving in the area, and to enable infant schools in England to admit service children over the class size of 30.
Opened the £17 million Jubilee rehabilitation complex at the Headley Court defence rehabilitation centre and announced the investment of a further £5 million to refurbish wards and accommodation.
Launched a new defence discount service, which for the first time offers a privilege card entitling members of the armed forces community to a range of discounts on goods and services.
Transferred £35 million from fines levied on the banks for attempting to manipulate the LIBOR interest rate to the Ministry of Defence for use in supporting the armed forces community, mainly through service charities.
Looking forward to the year ahead, this Government will among other things:
Increase the service pupil premium to £300 from April 2013, and extend its scope to children of service personnel who have died in service;
Fully disregard war pension or other guaranteed income payments through the armed forces compensation scheme in calculating entitlement to universal credit, when it is launched in 2013; and
Invest a further £131 million to purchase new service family accommodation to become available for use in 2013.
The report has been compiled in consultation with the covenant reference group, which brings together representatives from Government Departments; the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales; and from external members, including the three families federations, the Confederation of Service Charities, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families’ Association, the War Widows’ Association and Professor Hew Strachan.
Observations on the annual report by the external members of the covenant reference group are published as part of the report itself. Their observations are broadly supportive, but highlight a number of areas where work remains to be done. The Government will take careful note of these and will work to address them during the period leading to the next annual report. We are very grateful to the external members for their continued involvement and assistance.