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Veterans: Universal Credit

Volume 663: debated on Monday 8 July 2019

2. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for armed forces veterans in receipt of universal credit. (911763)

As veterans are civilians, the majority of care comes from other Departments and devolved Administrations. The Ministry of Defence works closely with other stakeholders to target and improve veterans’ access to services, including those who are eligible for universal credit.

The Minister has just spoken about the relationship between the MOD and other Departments. A study by the Forces in Mind Trust charity has found that ex-service personnel have an overwhelmingly negative experience of universal credit and the fit for work test. What is he going to do about that?

When those who have served in uniform depart for civilian street, it is very important that they are aware of the benefits for which they may or may not be eligible. Our transition programme now includes making sure that we improve the understanding of what armed forces personnel veterans can receive. I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State is working with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make very clear that universal credit is available for those who are eligible.

Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss further how we can create the position of an armed forces covenant ombudsman, who would be an advocate for those who, like the constituent of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), cannot get the resources they need from our public services and whose MPs are also unable to make progress?

I am aware that my hon. Friend has done a huge amount of work on this important matter, not least by lobbying me many times. She will be aware that the armed forces covenant is growing—we now have almost 4,000 signatories—but it is important that if somebody signs the covenant it meets their expectations. If it fails or falls foul of that, we need a system to recognise that. She raises a very interesting idea. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about it and we would be delighted to meet her to discuss it further.

Does the Minister recognise that the question raised by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) is an addition to the litany of failures for those leaving the armed forces trying to access universal credit? Let us bring this issue to a head. Does he not now agree that it is time to support my Armed Forces Representative Body Bill to ensure that the armed forces can speak with one strong voice when they leave the armed forces as veterans?

The hon. Gentleman raises this matter almost weekly, but he misses the point. We ensure that we look after our veterans and they know whether they are eligible for universal credit. We do that by ensuring synergy and joint working between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence, not just in this area but in health and education and right across the piece. The armed forces can push these issues forward. We need to hold Departments to account, and we do that through the Veterans Board.

For the benefit of people observing our proceedings who are not Members of the House I would simply add, non-pejoratively, that raising something weekly in the Chamber is a very modest effort. Raising things daily, or in some cases several times a day, is by no means unknown in, or condemned by, the House of Commons. It is perfectly normal.

Has the Minister had the opportunity to discuss with the Department for Work and Pensions the symptoms and expectations relating to post-traumatic stress disorder and how it impacts on veterans applying for benefits and occasionally having to visit offices to receive the benefits they deserve?

I am grateful for that question. It has been raised many times and it is important to put it in context and in perspective. Not everybody who joins the armed forces will be affected—just two in every 1,000 people —but they need the attention and support that they absolutely deserve. The Secretary of State is meeting the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss that very matter.