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Transition to Civilian Life

Volume 650: debated on Monday 26 November 2018

5. What steps his Department is taking to support service personnel in making the transition to civilian life. (907802)

Every single year, 15,000 personnel depart from our armed forces, and I hope that I say on behalf of the entire House, “Thank you for your service.” They learn incredible skills while serving, and we need to ensure that the transition back into civilian life is as smooth as possible. I am pleased to say that 90% of those who participate in our transition scheme are either in education or back in employment within six months of departing the armed forces.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Office for National Statistics, or the Registrar General for Scotland, about the feasibility of adding the category “armed forces veteran” to the national census, to help us to identify the location of our veterans?

I am pleased to say that we have spoken to the National Audit Office, and we are proceeding with the census question to ensure that we have a better understanding of who is actually a veteran in this country. I think it would be very helpful in securing a better estimation. We understand that there are currently 2.5 million veterans, and that the figure will fall to 1.5 million over the next 10 years, but better data through the census will certainly help.

Does the Minister agree with me about the importance of the work done by small local charities, such as Hull Veterans Support Centre in Beverley Road, Hull, which works not only with the veterans, but with the family, and provide support, particularly at this time, around social security benefits and universal credit?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. When we think of the armed forces, we think of those in uniform, and when we think of the veterans, we think of those who have served, but around every person who has served there is a family—a unit that has been with them every step of the way—and we must make sure that their needs are looked after as well. I pay tribute to all the service-facing charities, including the small ones, that do such an excellent job. It is also important to recognise the work of the Veterans’ Gateway that allows access to help with understanding where this support can be provided.

Sleeping rough or being homeless is always hard, particularly at this time of year, and I pay tribute to my charity Open Door, which helps people in such circumstances. What assessment has the Minister made about the number of former personnel who have trouble accessing housing and are finding themselves homeless this Christmas?

This issue was raised in the debates on the veterans strategy that we had a couple of weeks ago and on the covenant. It is very important that all local authorities recognise their responsibility in meeting their objectives for the covenant, and I encourage every hon. Member in this House to visit their local authority and ask who their armed forces champion is—who the person is who is supposed to be there to make sure we are meeting the objectives, which include looking after those requiring housing or needing help because they are homeless.

I am sure the Minister is aware that the Secretary of State said recently that they are the armed forces shop steward, so I wonder why the Government disagree that armed forces personnel, including those transitioning into civilian life, would be better served by real shop stewards elected by an armed forces representative body.

I put my hands up and say that we still need to work further on this—I made that clear in the debate as well—but the covenant is moving forward; we are holding other Government Departments to account, and I hope that will be made clearer when we report back on our findings next year.