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Covid-19: Support for Veterans

Volume 676: debated on Tuesday 12 May 2020

I have used this unprecedented situation to continue to modernise and improve our support for veterans in the UK. Last week, I launched the first stage in placing veterans’ care in the palm of the hand of every veteran in the country, with the launch of the smartphone application of Veterans UK. I have also secured £6 million of funding from the Treasury for service charities at this time.

Although the UK was unable to celebrate VE Day as originally planned, because of the threat of covid-19, it is still important that we remember and support the veterans who bravely played their part in fighting for peace and who sacrificed so much for our freedom. The UK’s armed forces compensation scheme, which helps veterans claim for injuries obtained while they were in the armed forces, was temporarily paused because of the covid-19 lockdown. Can the Minister assure my constituents that payments will be made as soon as possible? When will those payments be made?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am afraid he may be slightly misinformed; we have not missed any payments. We made 470,000 payments last month. Veterans’ care has not been suspended in the UK. We have, as the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, changed the way we provide services, but I am unaware of a single veteran currently in the care of Veterans UK who has not had their need met during this time.

But that is not good enough. Other Departments and businesses have found ways of operating call centres safely, so at a time when the nation has been awed by the efforts of Captain Tom Moore, why has the Ministry of Defence closed its vital Veterans UK helpline—the telephone service? It is not good enough.

I am certainly not going to take lectures on what is and is not good enough from a Labour party whose veterans’ care I experienced over a number of years. No services have been closed. We have changed the way of doing business. Clearly we cannot do new face-to-face consultations at this time. Again, I reiterate that not a single veteran in the care of Veterans UK has had their needs unmet at this time. I would caution Members against politicising what is clearly a very important issue.

Half of respondents to a recent Army Families Federation survey said that they had received no information at all about the Ministry of Defence’s future accommodation model. What are the Government doing to rectify that?

Again, I find that hard to believe, because we have gone out on a huge programme of engagement around the future accommodation model. This is a significant part of what the Government are doing to invest in what we call the offer to keep people within the military. If anybody requires that information, I am more than happy for them to get in touch with me. We have used the Army Families Federation’s publications and so on. I am always happy to do more. This is a communications battle we are determined to win. It is a positive step, and I look forward to engaging further with the Army Families Federation in future.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister has heard me speak previously about how fortunate veterans in Hull are to be supported by the Hull Veterans Support Centre and Hull 4 Heroes, which have been doing an incredible job in providing resources and mental health support. But I remain concerned that these are charities and are therefore competing with all other charities for donations at this time. So what specific funding can the Minister make available to support veterans’ charities?

I pay tribute to Hull 4 Heroes, which the hon. Lady knows I have been in contact with. It has done an amazing job during this time, as have many in the veterans’ sector. We have secured an initial £6 million out of the Treasury to support veterans’ charities at this time. But make no mistake—the environment that these charities operate in is changing, and will change, as a result of covid-19. I am absolutely determined to make sure that the ambition the Prime Minister has set out—that this is the best country in the world to be a veteran—is realised in due course.

Excellent. We now come to the urgent question. I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and wish him a happy 40th birthday. He should speak for no more than three minutes.