I am today laying before both Houses the 2015 Armed Forces Covenant annual report. The covenant is a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve, or have served, and their families are treated fairly. They protect the nation with honour, courage and commitment, and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.
The report sets out what the Government have done to uphold the principles of the covenant. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the covenant into law, setting out the requirement for the Defence Secretary to report progress annually to Parliament.
Last year we reported that every local authority in mainland Great Britain had signed the covenant, and I can confirm that over 750 employers have also now signed up.
This year particular emphasis has been given to supporting armed forces families. The Department of Health has embedded the principles of the covenant into the NHS constitution to ensure service families access healthcare where and when they need it. The schools admissions code has been amended to prioritise service children, and service families can now apply for, and be allocated a school place before they move to the area. Over 5,000 personnel have also been helped into homeownership through the forces help to buy scheme. We will aim to double this number to 10,000 by next year.
A further significant change is the inclusion of veterans from the merchant navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary as core members of the armed forces community.
The report has been compiled in consultation with other Government Departments, representatives from the devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the external members of the Covenant Reference Group, which includes the three Service Families Federations, the Confederation of Service Charities, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers Sailors Airman’s and Families Association, the War Widows Association and Professor Hugh Strachan.