18. What plans he has to strengthen the armed forces covenant. (902274)
The covenant came into force under the Armed Forces Act 2011. Since then, the Government have undertaken a range of actions to build the covenant. Our fourth annual report to Parliament is due to be published in December 2015 and that will detail the progress we have made during the year. The Government are committed to continuing to honour our pledges and encouraging wider society to think about their contribution.
I, too, am grateful for the support that councils, including Sutton, have demonstrated to our armed forces community. All have signed the community covenant and many are extremely proactive. I recently had a meeting with the chair of the Local Government Association and the Minister for Housing and Planning to discuss what more we can do to encourage local authorities as they look to support our armed forces community. As a result, I understand that the housing Minister intends to write to all local authorities setting out examples of best practice and reminding them of the need under the covenant to honour their commitments.
A veteran in my constituency suffers from mental health issues as a result of military service. He is on the local council housing list, but is one or two steps away from priority status. May I urge the Minister to beef up the military covenant to ensure that our veterans are given priority status for housing as a matter of course?
The Government are determined to honour the commitments made by the armed forces covenant to ensure fair treatment of veterans and their families in need of social housing. That is why this Government changed the laws so that seriously injured serving personnel and veterans with urgent housing needs must always be a high priority for social housing. It is, however, for local authorities to make judgments about the competing housing priorities in their areas, but if my hon. Friend writes to me with the details of this case, I will of course raise it with my Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the £40 million invested in the veterans accommodation fund. I work very closely with a number of charities to ensure that we address this issue. He can see for himself at the Beacon home in Catterick, for example, or the Mike Jackson House in Aldershot, if he wishes to visit, and I would encourage him to do so.
In the past five years, we have seen the pay and pension entitlements of service personnel cut in real terms, 30,000 redundancies and a failure to recruit the number of reserves that the Government planned to fill the gap. Now we read that annual increments and special allowances are also to be cut. Does the Minister accept that treating service personnel so shoddily will impact on morale and can be seen as a breach of the military covenant?
I was hoping to avoid these words, but the hon. Lady will have to wait until 3.30 pm. I am confident that the remuneration package will remain an excellent package for our service personnel, but she will just have to wait a few more minutes to find out exactly whether or not to believe all the press reports she reads.