My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
We are asking a lot of our service personnel, who are performing magnificently on operations across the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, it is only right that we support them as best as we can.
As a result of the recent high tempo of operations, we have quite rightly seen a greater focus on the support that we offer to our people and their families—both in theatre and at home.
Over the past year, we have made significant improvements to the welfare package and to the support that we provide. These include: a rebate on council tax and a tax-free operational allowance for those on operations; an increase in financial support provided for coroners dealing with inquests, along with additional support for bereaved families; extension of the mental health assessments and provisions for both veterans and those serving on operations; a commitment to spending £5 billion over the next decade on accommodation; and a significant pay rise for junior soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.
There have been significant improvements to in-theatre medical treatment and facilities, and it is widely recognised that we provide first-class clinical treatment for those injured through both the NHS and the defence medical services. Better treatment and better equipment mean that our personnel are surviving injuries that they would not have previously survived. As a result, we have a number of casualties and personnel sustaining serious injuries who will need enduring support. As a Government, we are committed to making sure that the care pathway from initial injury to rehabilitation is as good as it can be.
We also acknowledge that some of the accommodation for service personnel and their families is not up to scratch and we are now rectifying decades of under investment. But we have also said that we want to ensure that our forces have the opportunity to get on the housing ladder if they wish and we are looking for the best mechanism to achieve this.
We believe that now is the right time to take stock and for the Government to set out their agenda for service personnel, their families and veterans. Our intention, therefore, is to publish a Command Paper setting out our existing support and, in the context of the challenges facing our service personnel today and in the future, the Government's vision for further support. We believe that we are doing a lot to enhance the support we offer our forces in areas such as accommodation, education, health care, family support, transition to civilian life and caring for our casualties. However, we can do more in all of these areas and we are committed to doing so.
We envisage engagement with key external stakeholders from the charity sector and our service families' federations.
Also, we will conduct a parallel study into encouraging greater engagement, understanding and pride in the UK Armed Forces by the nation as whole.
We expect that both these studies will be published in spring 2008.