I am today laying before both Houses the 2016 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 and suffer no disadvantage as a result of that service.
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 Secretary of State for Defence to report progress annually to Parliament.
Every local authority in mainland Great Britain is continuing to provide a network of support for the armed forces community. Over 1,300 employers have now also signed up.
This year, in response to feedback from our people, particular emphasis has been given to improving access to commercial goods and services; ensuring healthcare, education, and accommodation; and improving communications about the covenant.
A total of 89% of the UK’s motor industry has agreed that service personnel and their families will not face cancellation fees for suspending their cover when posted overseas, and they will be able to preserve their no claims discount for up to three years. NHS England launched a new veterans’ trauma network, aimed at providing a safety net for trauma-recovering veterans and service personnel transitioning back into civilian life. In addition to the service pupil premium, the Ministry of Defence has allocated £6 million of funding from its education support fund to help 471 schools, with over 25,000 children from service families. We continue to help our people to get on and stay on the property ladder, through the forces help to buy scheme, which we have extended to 2018. A total of 11,645 service personnel have had their applications approved. We have also created a cohort of over 150 covenant champions across the armed forces to act as local focal points within their communities.
Last year, we announced the launch of the new £10 million per annum covenant fund. Since then, it has funded nearly 300 large and small projects across the UK totalling nearly £12 million, to provide support to the armed forces community. We have committed £2 million to provide a single point of contact to help veterans towards appropriate support when and where they need it.
The Local Government Association, in partnership with the Forces in Mind Trust completed a review with over 400 representatives of local authorities to create a covenant toolkit. This will help to spread covenant delivery best practice across the United Kingdom.
A new inter-ministerial group for the armed forces covenant will be established in the new year.
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, Airmen and Families Association, the War Widows Association and Professor Hew Strachan.