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Forces Families

Volume 698: debated on Monday 5 July 2021

The Government support families by providing successful wraparound childcare pilots, and in the last financial year awarded grants totalling £4.5 million from the MOD’s education support grant fund and its early years and childcare fund. Through Forces Help to Buy, we have helped around 24,100 personnel to buy a home or move as their families’ needs changed. The future accommodation model is looking at how we can support service families with more choices about how, where and with whom they live.

What is the Ministry of Defence doing to ensure that eligible personnel know that the continuity of education allowance—an important and necessary support for young people from military families, the vast majority of whom are a great asset to the schools they attend—is available to NCOs as well as to officers?

The CEA is available to all ranks, and we should encourage as many people as possible to take it up. It is used to achieve essential continuity of education for children, providing educational stability when personnel are assigned to service locations to meet the obligations of their service. Service personnel of all ranks may qualify, subject to their satisfying eligibility criteria, and they are encouraged to seek advice from the chain of command if they wish to take it up.

Armed forces families are very much the backbone of our military, including those living at Worthy Down in my constituency, and it is only right that we do everything we can to guarantee that they and their loved ones enjoy the best possible quality of life as much as anybody else. Can the Secretary of State confirm that it is his mission to see that every service family can live in the modern, sustainable accommodation that they deserve?

It is my mission that they get the accommodation that they deserve. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation has recently awarded contracts up to the value of £2.1 billion to a number of market-leading suppliers to provide maintenance services across the UK estate for the next seven years. Those contracts will benefit from the increased investment announced in the integrated review to address the legacy of underinvestment across the estate, enabling improvements for our armed forces and their families.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) on her election? This is the first Defence questions we have had since Armed Forces Day, when we normally thank not only the personnel but their families. As the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) mentioned, the families really are the backbone of serving personnel across the UK. We know that the Government provide £2,000 for the childcare subsidy, but families are often spending three times as much as that and sometimes even more, so I have a very simple question: will the Secretary of State increase the childcare subsidy available to personnel and their families?

First, we are going to increase spending on wraparound childcare to over £165 million a year for families with children up to 11 in primary school. That reflects the fact that most service personnel do not have a nine-to-five job, and it will help them considerably. In fact, where we have run the pilots, this has been incredibly popular. On the continuity allowance, one way to manage the disruption that families suffer is not necessarily by increasing that allowance but by increasing forces’ families ability to find a place they want to live, so that they can be settled and their children can attend the same school. That is a growing trend from when I served, and the 24,000 benefiting from Help to Buy is a really positive number. It shows that a number of people have now made the choice that when they deploy, they will go on their own, and their families and children will stay stable in one place.

It is good to hear that there is going to be increased support, and we know from surveys that childcare costs, in particular, can be crippling for service families. May I move on to employment issues for the families of service personnel? At the minute, in the UK, helping the spouses of those who serve in the armed forces is largely left to the third sector. Canada, a fellow NATO country, has a thing called the spousal employment network, which is a very successful model, run in-house by the Government, to help the spouses of those who serve to find good-quality work that suits them. Will our Government look to bring this type of thing in-house, rather than leaving it to the third sector? Although that sector does a good job, the state should be taking on more of that responsibility.

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are working on a families’ strategy, and his suggestion is in exactly an area we are working on in that strategy. He is right; when I was serving in Germany in the BAOR—the British Army of the Rhine—where there was a much more settled, huge Army, there were lots of those organisations around, and I think they need some reinvigorating. Whether that is done entirely through the state or through a blend of non-governmental organisations, charities, volunteers and the state is something I would welcome being looked at, and I think there will be some solutions. What he says is totally in line with our policy and view that we have to do more for spouses to help them with their jobs if they move around.