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Armed Forces Covenant

Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013

4. What steps he is taking to encourage other Government Departments to support the armed forces covenant. (144304)

As stated in December in the first formal annual report on the armed forces covenant, by enshrining the principles of the covenant in law and establishing a Cabinet-level Committee to oversee progress, we are embedding the covenant across Whitehall. The Cabinet Sub-Committee on the Armed Forces Covenant, led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy, was formed in February 2012 to oversee the covenant programme of work and ensure that momentum is maintained. It provides a forum where Ministers can discuss the commitments owned by their Departments. It met four times in 2012 and has already met this year, a meeting that I attended.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What further work is being done to reinforce at local level the need to address veterans’ issues, for example through work with housing associations, many of which have tenants who are veterans, some of whom are in a vulnerable position?

More than 250 local authorities have now signed community covenants, and housing is one issue that is often covered in them; it is covered, I believe, under section 4 of the Swindon community covenant. If veterans have particular problems with housing, as well as contacting their local council and housing associations they can contact the Ministry of Defence’s veterans welfare service, which is part of the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and can assist them with their inquiries.

The Government have been tested on how seriously they take the armed forces covenant by the issue of the bedroom tax, and they have failed that test. The right hon. Gentleman has finally admitted, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), that some armed forces families, including those of reservists, could be affected by the bedroom tax, but he does not know how many. Now that we know that some armed forces families will be punished by the bedroom tax, why does he think the families of prisoners and of students should have a year’s exemption, but not armed forces families?

It is believed that very few, if any, full-time service personnel will be affected by the new policy of the Department for Work and Pensions as the overwhelming majority will be living in service accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence. I have met Lord Freud at the DWP to discuss the issue in detail, and we believe that the number of service personnel who will be affected, either regular or reserve, will be really quite small.