The Government are committed to providing a gold standard of support for veterans. The additional £5 million announced on 6 September followed a meeting of the Defence Secretary, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, me and the service charities to discuss measures to mitigate the impact of events in Afghanistan. That is on top of the £20 million already going to armed forces charities this year.
Sadly, some veterans end up living on our streets. The solution is not just to give them a bed, a job or a roof over their head; what they need is real, targeted mental health support. Will my hon. Friend please advise me what the Government are doing to make sure that our brave veterans get the targeted mental health support they richly deserve?
I am pleased to confirm that, in the form of Op Courage, we have bespoke mental health provision in the NHS, now running at £20 million this year. But this is not just about money; it is about ensuring that veterans are part of that care, and as peer support workers in Op Courage, they are.
Will the Minister explain specifically how these announcements will help the veterans community hub recently opened in Newton Aycliffe by the lord lieutenant, Sue Snowdon, and veteran Scott Robertson? That fantastic facility provides mental health support, occupational rehabilitation and sports therapy. Will the Minister commend all those involved with the project, but specifically veterans Scott Robertson and Tommy Lowther? While I am about it, will the Minister also thank 100-year-old RAF veteran William Cooksey, who completed a 100-mile walk—10 miles for each of 10 days —to support County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, raising over £3,000? If the Minister would like to come and visit, he would be very welcome.
I am delighted to put on the record my thanks to veterans Scott Robertson and Tommy Lowther, and to the 100-year-old RAF veteran William Cooksey. They are clearly the best of us. If the Newton Aycliffe hub needs support, it should consider applying to the armed forces covenant trust fund. Of course I would be delighted to visit.
I know that my hon. Friend’s top priorities are the health and wellbeing of those people who have sacrificed so much for our country, especially in respect of mental health. Can he confirm that, if people who require specialist help were to reach out to NHS Operation Courage, they would get the bespoke care packages that they need and desperately deserve?
I can confirm that, and I am pleased to do so. The provision is first class. However, we are also after a change in culture, so that those who have served know that it is the soldierly thing to do to ask for help.
The Minister must know that 79% of charities believe that the responsibility to support veterans should lie more with the Government and the armed forces themselves. Will he commit to looking in detail at Labour’s proposed duty of care amendment to the Armed Forces Bill, which aims to do precisely that?
I actually commend the long and noble tradition that we have of armed forces charities assisting the Government in their response to supporting veterans, and I am pleased that our support to them this year will top out at more than £20 million.
The Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board is supposed to drive forward and co-ordinate better Government support for members of the armed forces, their families and veterans. The Scottish Government have asked repeatedly for that group to be reconvened. When can we expect its next meeting to take place?
I am happy to confirm that that meeting will take place within the next couple of weeks.
Combat Stress, a charity supporting veterans’ mental health, has seen its income fall by £6 million in the current financial year. Will the Minister therefore accept that the Government’s recent announcement of £5 million for the entire sector is simply not enough to support veterans’ mental health?
That is a top-up; the provision is more than £20 million. I look forward to discussing that in detail when I visit Combat Stress tomorrow.