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Armed Forces: Civilian Life

Volume 749: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Transition Mapping Study published by the Forces in Mind Trust in August into understanding the transition process for armed forces personnel returning to civilian life.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister and her evident versatility to the Dispatch Box. We debated medicine labelling 10 days ago and transition mapping tonight—that is surely a very broad canvas for her skills.

Due to redundancy programmes in the Armed Forces, more than the usual annual numbers of personnel are making the transition from service to civilian life. The Transition Mapping Study, published by the Forces in Mind Trust last August, is therefore a timely and important new look at this subject. It is a new look into the many issues and problems that may arise for some, but by no means all, who leave the forces and seek to establish themselves in a new civilian career or occupation.

I will first remind your Lordships of the Forces in Mind Trust. It is a new charity, which owes its genesis to the inspiration and determination of Air Vice-Marshal Stables, then chairman of COBSEO, to set up a charitable organisation that would be complementary to and supportive of the many service charities that already exist. Some might argue that there are enough already, so why have yet another one? Time is too short to explain in detail. Briefly, however, Stables was able to persuade the Big Lottery Fund to make a grant of £35 million to set up the Forces in Mind Trust, and the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry has given partnership support. Those are surely two very resounding votes of confidence in the concept, place and value of this new charity.

The trust aims initially to concentrate on transition, a term used to describe the process whereby service men and women, as well as their families and dependants, make their individual preparations to leave the Armed Forces and return to civilian life. For the majority who leave each year this is a successful process. However, there are a significant number who have faced or are facing a difficult transition, and the trust has focused on that group. The trust’s patron is the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who would have wished to take part in this debate but unfortunately has a speaking engagement elsewhere this evening.

The Transition Mapping Study report, which is the trigger for this short debate, is well worth study. Some recurring themes emerge from it—for example, transition experiences vary greatly, and much depends on the individual’s attitude to his or her transition. The differences between military and civilian life are often underestimated; cultural differences, for example, can come as some surprise, and even as a shock. Families matter; the extent to which the service leaver’s family is supportive and able to help is a strong indicator of likely transition success. Financial awareness is also important. For many it differs greatly between their service experience and forthcoming civilian life. The quality and consistency of the transition process within the services has improved but remains uneven. After transition the safety net that could be provided by service charities is hard to navigate. Not everyone who leaves the Armed Forces is entitled to resettlement support. Even among the entitled, some lack educational qualifications. Others are required to serve their final months deployed overseas or distant from their chosen civilian life. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, says in his foreword to the report, such individuals are at particular risk of failing to make a successful transition.

I will draw attention to some guiding principles identified in the report, from page 78 onwards, to aid those assisting with transition. These have been distilled from interviewing stakeholders, analysis of existing research and the research team’s own work and modelling. For example, how can one best comprehend and encompass the whole context of the experiences of a service leaver? Moving from a service environment to a civilian one is not simply about a change of job; it involves a change of lifestyle and culture, maybe moving home, establishing new friendships, new schools for the children, greater personal administration and responsible management of personal affairs. It involves not only the individual service man or woman but also the immediate members of their family.

Each case will be different, so it is not simply a matter of identifying or adopting a broad systemic approach. Rather, how should support organisations tailor and direct their services to meet the needs and aspirations of the individual in a more personally structured way? As he or she joins the forces, that individual faces the inevitability of transition and its related financial, emotional and cultural changes and experiences. So how soon, and with what help and guidance, should the individual and their immediate family start to prepare? Problems with mental health and alcohol abuse may have a direct bearing on making a successful transition. Some who are leaving the forces today have been exposed to the traumas and tragedies and operations in a way that may, months and even years later, lead to mental stress and related illnesses. Those individuals will surely need additional help.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, also mentions in his foreword to the report, there is a clear, evidence-based economic case for some change in the current arrangements. Failed transition cost the state upwards of £113 million in 2012. The financial cost to the charity sector and individuals will be many times more, not to mention the quality of life cost to the individual of ill health, family breakdown and even imprisonment. The report lists 10 categories of failed transition—for example, homelessness, imprisonment, class A drug treatment, family breakdown and unemployment. Through an algorithm, it calculates that the cost to the state in benefits, treatment and loss of revenue adds up to that figure of £113 million for 2012. Those are stark symptoms of transition breakdown, which must not be ignored or brushed under the carpet.

I shall be interested to learn from the Minister how the MoD and the Government are reacting to the work of the Forces in Mind Trust. Do they accept the thrust of its analysis and recommendations? I acknowledge that the MoD has introduced some new transition arrangements, but does the Minister agree that further change is acquired? Is not a more cost-effective approach to this important aspect of the support of the Armed Forces and the practical value of the Armed Forces covenant required? I look forward to her response.

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for introducing this debate and offering an opportunity to consider the issues around members of the Armed Forces returning to civilian life. The timing is particularly appropriate as we approach Remembrance Day, when the nation pays tribute to all those who have laid their lives on the line in the service of the country.

As the noble and gallant Lord said, and as was mentioned in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, last week, military life is not just a job but a way of life. Leaving the military can mean personnel and their families leaving work, homes and communities, each of which will impose disturbance and uncertainty. In addition, as the insightful survey by the Forces in Mind Trust makes clear, there are very varied cultural differences between military and civilian, in forms of behaviour, language and expectations.

The transition to civilian employment has been greatly improved since the days when the military ran its own training programmes with its own, often somewhat mystical, accreditation. During the many years when I worked for City and Guilds, we saw expansion in demand from the military for NVQs and other vocational qualifications. New recruits sometimes needed basic literacy and numeracy qualifications. Advanced skills, such as those called for by REME, with its technical and mechanical prowess, by nuclear submariners in the Royal Navy, or aeronautical engineers in the Royal Air Force, and many other forms of skills could be recognised in a way that would be understood and valued by civilian employers. City and Guilds also worked with higher command and staff courses to award degree-level qualifications. Over the years, increasing numbers of personnel have been offered opportunities to gain university degrees—again, placing them in a better position for civilian life. So whatever the rank or length of service, all should now leave with a profile of achievement which equips them for the employment market. Creating transferable skills is one of the recommendations in this report.

But there is more to the transition, of course. Ray Lock, the chief executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, which generated the survey, has flagged up the importance of practical skills to cope with everyday life. Military personnel who have spent their service life in barracks or mess accommodation may have little experience of managing their personal finances. If food, accommodation, heating and uniforms have all been provided, it can be a steep learning curve to have to sort out everyday needs for oneself. As he says,

“soldiers, sailors and airmen can join up as young as 17 and are cocooned from civilian life when they are in the forces. As well as missing the camaraderie and identity of the Armed Forces, they can struggle to deal with rent, bills and planning”.

The study found that the worst affected were often young veterans who had left early. They may have joined up with few coping skills and, in a short period in service, not managed to build up self-sufficiency. An essential part of any transition process will include learning the responsibilities of everyday life. Critical to that is financial literacy, which should be part of every school leaver’s education and one of the many areas in which the Armed Forces are doing considerable work to try to improve the skills of those serving. Another theme of the report is to create independence.

The challenges faced by single people are matched by those with dependent relatives. In my 30 years, when my husband was a serving RAF officer, I became very involved in welfare matters, particularly in respect of wives and families; this was before the days when partners were officially recognised. The military community has always been resourceful and capable of innovative self-help projects. I remember that, through the station executives, it was possible to set up opportunities, albeit limited, for families to access learning and training, which would give them some skills and confidence to continue learning, both during and after their service life. Those were embryonic schemes, and much progress has been made since then, with official engagement with the family, which is another theme of the report. It is important to do this at the earliest stage.

The transition for families can be as demanding and traumatic as for the members of the Armed Forces. Measures that enable dependent relatives to be supportive rather than burdensome at this time bring all-round benefits. I pay tribute to the work of families federations, which have raised the profile of military family life, identified problem areas and offered supportive solutions. Would my noble friend the Minister, whom I welcome to her role within the Ministry of Defence, be able to say something about government support for the Army, Navy and Air Force families federations?

Many of the qualities and skills called for in military life are entirely transferable and will prove valuable throughout society—not just professional skills, but the ethos of public service, teamwork and respect for others. Plans to recruit troops into teaching, for instance, are beginning to bear fruit. Other public and private sector employers would do well to look out for these new entrants to the civilian market.

In your Lordships’ House, there is enormous expertise and support for the Armed Forces. In addressing the transition brought to the fore by the redundancy programme, I trust that the Government will take positive action to take full account of the military covenant and be generous in support of the invaluable members of the Armed Forces during these testing times. I look forward to the other contributions and to my noble friend’s response.

My Lords, I apologise most profusely to the House and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for being absent at the very start of this debate. I declare two interests. I am a trustee of Veterans Aid which aims through a caring and non-judgmental approach to care for veterans in crisis and contribute to their return to society. I am also president of Stoll, a housing organisation which supports vulnerable veterans in the hope that they can live as independently as possible.

I would like to address two areas this evening. One is to do with the Forces in Mind transition study itself and the second is a wider point affecting the veterans sector in the UK as a whole. It is a great pity that the study did not address the singular and very knotty problem of foreign and Commonwealth personnel as they transition to civilian life here. There are about 8,500 such folk in the Armed Forces—some 5% of the total. It is not known how many of them aspire to British citizenship, but the annual number of foreign and Commonwealth veterans who have sought help from the Veterans Aid charity has increased exponentially over the past seven years and now constitutes some 22% of those who were seen by the charity this year.

This may be due in part to the successful resolution of the Lance Corporal Baleiwai case. Your Lordships may remember that he was a Fijian soldier who had served with distinction for 13 years, including on operational tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, but, because he had had a barrack room fight with another soldier, was threatened with deportation. Following a petition and a relaxation of the rules by the Home Office, he and his family were allowed to stay. The publicity surrounding this case may well have given more of those likely to encounter such problems the courage to seek help. However, if there is a belief that because of interventions such as that the problem has gone away, that is not the experience of the charity. If anything, the situation is worse than it has ever been and the problems do not relate just to citizenship but to applications for indefinite and further leave to remain in the country. Many of those affected are service men and women who have served for less than four years and have been discharged on medical grounds or made redundant through no fault of their own. They believe that they have a fair claim to stay, but often do not. Public perceptions of the wider immigration issue also work to the detriment of this cohort. Indeed, they are further disadvantaged by the £1,000 cost of an application to regularise their status, which is not refundable if it fails.

A recent case is that of a former Royal Engineer from Nigeria who left the Army in September after two years of service, having been medically discharged. He had lived in the United Kingdom for six years but had never applied for citizenship. After leaving his Army quarters, he had nowhere to go. When he went to see the charity, he was sleeping in a garage and his 18 month-old daughter and pregnant wife were sleeping in a cupboard. The charity provided immediate intervention but this is not a long-term solution and the outcome remains uncertain.

Discretion can be exercised in these cases, but although there are guidelines they are by no means clear. They are further confused by the bureaucracy surrounding the applications, which is very complex, even for those with legal training, and virtually impenetrable to the lay soldiery. Not everyone can be helped, of course; there are clear cases where the actions of an individual make him or her ineligible. On the other hand, a single error on a form can generate rejection or critical delay.

Things are happening. A Private Member’s Bill in the other place seeks to amend the British Nationality Act 1981 so that foreign and Commonwealth citizens in the forces who want to apply for naturalisation as British citizens are not disadvantaged because of time served overseas. Current law states that foreign and Commonwealth citizens must have been in the UK for five years prior to making an application, and those who have spent time serving overseas, albeit on active service in Afghanistan, may have to wait longer to apply than non-service personnel or those who have spent their entire military career in the United Kingdom. It is clearly a well intentioned Bill that was introduced to ensure that the military covenant is delivered in practice as well as in spirit, and it should be applauded. It will, however, address only a small part of the wider problem.

This brings me to my wider point, which concerns the veterans sector as a whole. There are currently three studies relevant to this issue—the mapping study itself, the study of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, and a study being conducted by the Centre for Social Justice. The latter two have yet to report. We should await the outcome of these studies before any action is taken. However, coupled with the recent enshrinement into law of the military covenant, high expectations have been raised in the veteran community and the many charities involved.

We should not forget that the vast majority of those leaving the Armed Forces manage the transition to civilian life well. Those veterans in crisis or real need constitute a relatively small but none the less important cohort. At the same time, the veterans sector is comparatively well provided for. The Charity Commission calculates the net assets of Armed Forces charities at about £1.1 billion, with an annual gross income of nearly £750 million. However, there are currently some 2,050 Armed Forces charities from which these totals are aggregated. This seems a staggeringly high number and suggests that there is a charity for every 10 members of the Armed Forces. I suspect that many of them are unsustainable in the longer term and that many, too, are donor-led rather than needs-led, with good folk having what seems a cracking good idea and starting up a charity without serious analysis of the need. The marketplace is, indeed, very crowded.

Therefore, I suggest that, however well intentioned all these studies are, the time has come for a much more radical look at the veterans sector. We should revisit the notion of an independent veterans’ champion or ombudsman, or whatever would be the best title to describe him. The Ministry of Defence is the principal department with responsibility for veterans and has, through no fault of the individuals, had something like seven Secretaries of State and seven junior Ministers handling the veterans portfolio in the past eight years, which is not a recipe for focus and continuity. This is a source of concern for the ex-service charity world and begs the question of whether it is not time to look at the Canadian model of a fully fledged department of veteran affairs with an enshrined veterans’ charter. Working with the Charity Commission, this official or department should be able to bring a better coherence to the veteran sector while encouraging needs-led rather than donor-led activity and provisioning. It should also allow the sector to get the biggest bang for its buck, which is certainly not the case at the moment. It would have a much clearer focus on the issues across the board and across government and would have the independence to recommend courses of action to the Government, untrammelled by departmental agendas.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on securing this important debate. I want to concentrate primarily—at least initially—on personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Battlefield medicine has improved dramatically. Consequently, the survival rate of members of the Armed Forces who receive very severe injuries while on active service is much greater than would have been the case some years ago. As welcome as that is, the net effect is that many very seriously injured personnel are returning to this country. These young men and women will require perhaps 60 years of help and welfare.

I tabled a Question on this issue last December and was given the relevant figures at that time. I am sure that the noble Baroness who is to reply will have access to that information. There is a growing number of very seriously injured service personnel returning to this country who will require a career path to be worked out for them. If they are able to undertake work, that is extremely therapeutic. I know of a ranger in my own home area who is doing telephony work in a barracks, although it remains to be seen how permanent that will be. There are many special needs cases among these returning personnel. I hope that the noble Baroness will refer to them in her reply.

I also want to mention another development. A few weeks ago my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, put forward a proposal at home for a world-class trauma centre that we would like to be developed as part of our local mental health strategy, which is based on the Bamford review published a few years ago. It is the case, sadly, that because of our experience with Operation Banner and our Troubles over 40 years we have many people who served in the Armed Forces or the police, or their reserves, who are even now, after 30 or 40 years, presenting with clear illness only at this stage and requiring substantial aid and assistance. I just wonder how prepared we are to deal with such people.

Given that around the world there are cases such as all the shootings in American universities, the Norwegian experience and people returning from wars, including our service personnel, a huge number of people require help and assistance in dealing with the mental health effects of such terrible circumstances. Our idea is therefore to create in Northern Ireland a centre of excellence based partly on 40 years of experience but which would be opened up internationally, because people from, for example, the United States and the European Union have been helpful to us, and because, with our experience, we think that as well as receiving help we can perhaps give something back to the international community. That is why we are pursuing this. There was a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday on a Motion from our party that was passed unanimously, seeking support for the implementation of a strategy to deal with the trauma that had been created.

The military covenant was referred to. Given the commitments that Parliament and the Government have rightly made, we have to give a lot more attention to these issues than perhaps has hitherto been the case. Figures were quoted from the report and have been in the press. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, that those figures only scratch the surface, because it is impossible in many cases to put a financial value on some of the downstream consequences of these traumas, particularly when many ex-service personnel have multiple amputations and very severe injuries. The truth is that we do not know in this country what the consequences of these situations are going to be and we cannot estimate the cost.

I asked the Ministry of Defence in a Question last year whether the National Health Service was prepared and resourced to deal with these matters. I ask the Minister to address that issue. What provision is being made? We have large numbers of troops returning who are going to be interfacing with a transition process. Within that number will be a percentage who, over time, will present with post-traumatic stress and related conditions. I should like to think that we as a country will put some resources into helping research and development into these conditions, which would have an international application. Perhaps this is one area in which those in Northern Ireland who have had significant experience can give a lead—which is certainly our intention.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley on securing time for this debate, which is very timely in view of the period in the year in which we find ourselves, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, pointed out.

I was much impressed by the statement on page 15 of the Transition Mapping Study that the difference between a manageable transition and a poor one can come down to resources when the safety net provided by charities for ex-service personnel either works or fails to work, and by the point that the safety net is hard to navigate, even by those who understand it. I was impressed because I find this assessment of the efficacy of the safety net in present circumstances quite disturbing.

My initial contact with the services was some 55 years ago when I was called up for national service in the Army. Perhaps I was unusually fortunate, but two features of the Highland regiment that I joined impressed me at the time and are relevant to this debate. The first was that the regiment had strong links with particular areas in the Highlands and certain areas in the north of England from which traditionally it had drawn its recruits. The second feature was that the regiment maintained strong links with those areas by means of a network of regimental associations that were very active in looking after the interests of those who had left the service but were in need of support. We were all encouraged to believe that although we had gone back into civilian life, we were all still members of the regimental family. This applied especially to the regular soldiers who had been in the service for a long time. It was appreciated that they, too, would be likely to need support. That was why the associations were set up and why the retired officers of the regiment took such a strong interest in them.

I left the Army just as the process of amalgamations was starting. To begin with, the association system could cope with that. The regimental family was enlarged but was still a family. That all changed when all the surviving Scottish infantry regiments were gathered together into a single body, the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I make no criticism of the decision to reform the Army in Scotland in that way, but it has had the unfortunate consequence that as the links with particular recruiting areas and the associations that went with them were broken, the old families have almost entirely disappeared. That kind of support is not there any more. It will take time to build up a replacement.

I mention this because I suggest that it makes it all the more important that the Government pay very close attention to the points made in this study. The old system, when the regiments could do so much to provide the support and guidance that was needed in their own areas, has gone. Of course, as the study points out, there are strong differences between the culture of the different services, and indeed between the various units in the Army, too. The system which I have been describing was suited to the way the infantry regiments, each with its own cap badge, were organised. However, I suspect that the process of slimming down has made itself felt across all three services in a similar way. This increases the need for positive action by the Government, and it is a point that I think this study is making about the provision of resources.

At this time of the year one thinks, of course, of the Royal British Legion and of Poppyscotland, its Scottish counterpart whose unique poppy I wear. I am troubled by the suggestion that ex-servicemen find the charity sector, in which these organisations play such a prominent part, hard to navigate. I doubt whether this can be attributed to lack of effort by the charities. Each year Poppyscotland helps thousands of ex-service men and women and their families to overcome physical, emotional and financial difficulties. It also supports other veteran charities which provide specialist help and it has a high profile. Help is available to those who need it if they know where to go and can bring themselves to seek it. I am quite sure that Poppyscotland would not be alone in feeling disappointed if the route to get help from it were difficult to navigate. That is the last thing it would wish to happen. There are, however, as we all know and as has been mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Walker, very many charities in this field, and one can understand that it may be a bit difficult for those who are in trouble to know where to turn to because, as the study points out, there is no central conduit for finding one’s way about.

Therefore, there seems to be much force in the points that the study makes, in recommendations 4.6 and 4.7, that there is a clear need for a central tool to be devised and provided. That would seem to be an important practical step that the Government might take to address this worrying situation, and I, for my part, would be very interested to learn from the Minister what assessment has been made of the possibility of taking it.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, to her defence brief as a Minister and extend to her our congratulations.

I, too, should like to express my thanks to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for securing this debate and for providing the opportunity to discuss some of the issues raised in the Transition Mapping Study, published nearly three months ago by the Forces in Mind Trust. The study reviews how the transition process from military to civilian life currently works, and how it is viewed by stakeholders and recent service leavers. That information has then been used to develop an economic model that calculates the cost to the United Kingdom as a whole of the impact of unsuccessful transition.

As has already been said, the report points out that the cost to the state last year of Armed Forces personnel not making a successful transition into civilian life at the end of their service is estimated at upwards of £113 million. On top of that are the financial costs to the many relevant charities which become involved and to the individuals and their families who are directly affected. The report makes 26 recommendations for addressing this issue. It goes on to state that the cost of implementing many of the recommendations would be but a small fraction of the £113 million cost figure for last year, when there were just under 20,000 service leavers.

The figure of £113 million for the costs of poor transition is broken down in the report. Alcohol misuse makes up the biggest single figure with a cost of £35 million, followed by mental health issues at £26 million. Unemployment costs come in next at £21 million, with the costs of family breakdown being put at £16 million. The cost of homelessness is assessed as being £5.5 million and ending up as a prison inmate £4.4 million. There are then the more limited costs related to other matters reflecting poor transition, which bring the total figure up to the £113 million.

The report recognises that over the past 13 years there has been an increased awareness of the issues involved in servicemen and servicewomen transitioning from the Armed Forces to the civilian world, starting with the formal statement in 2000 under the previous Government of the notion of the Armed Forces covenant. This spelt out why, as a society, we should ensure that those who have served in the military are not disadvantaged by their time in the services.

In 2003, the processes necessary to improve transition from the services to civilian life were initially outlined under the Ministry of Defence’s Strategy for Veterans, and this was further developed as part of a Command Paper published in 2008. The 2003 Strategy for Veterans laid down the objectives that transition to civilian life from the Armed Forces was intended to achieve. It set out three key pillars, the purpose of which was to ensure that veterans received excellent preparation for the transition to civilian life following service, support from the Government and the voluntary sector where needed, and recognition of their contribution to society.

Until 2011, the Armed Forces covenant was an informal understanding, but in that year the core principles of the covenant were, as we know, enshrined in law for the first time, and provided that no current or former member of the Armed Forces, or their families, should be at a disadvantage compared with other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services, and that special consideration was appropriate in some cases, particularly for those who had been injured or bereaved. As we know, the Armed Forces Act 2011 laid down, too, that the Defence Secretary should provide an annual report on the covenant.

The 2011 Act also set out two key principles. The first is that it is desirable to remove disadvantages arising for service people from membership, or former membership, of the Armed Forces and the second is that special provision for service people may be justified by the effects on such people of membership, or former membership, of the Armed Forces.

In the document, The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, published in May 2011, the Government set out the measures that they were taking to support the principles of the covenant in the immediate and longer term, drawing also on work already done, including by the previous Government. In respect of the general expectations and aspirations implicit in the covenant, the document said in relation to transition that support should be provided to all service personnel to assist in their transition from service to civilian life. It went on to say that provision should include training, education, and appropriate healthcare referral and job-seeking preparation and assistance, and that this should include information and guidance on housing and financial management and the support that is available from government departments and the voluntary sector.

Under the previous Government and this Government, real progress has been made in acknowledging and in seeking to address the issues involved in the transition process for service personnel returning to civilian life and their families, whether it be through, for example, training courses, civilian work attachments, help with job-hunting and house-hunting, financial advice, or advice on the importance of seeking medical help, including the ability to access mental health services.

Tremendous work continues to be undertaken by military charities and welfare organisations. Through community covenants, local authorities, local businesses, organisations and charities, along with the Armed Forces in their area, are encouraged to promote understanding and awareness of issues affecting the Armed Forces community, including the sacrifices they have made, and encourage activities which help to integrate the Armed Forces community into local life. A great many local authorities have signed up to the community covenant scheme. There are also many examples of local initiatives designed to help ensure that there is a successful transition process.

However, what the Transition Mapping Study published by the Forces in Mind Trust in August reminds us is how much there is that can still be done and needs to be done while in service, as part of resettlement and in the transition to civilian life itself. The study makes 26 recommendations and it would be helpful if the Minister could say whether the Government are or will be considering adopting and implementing any of those recommendations in order to build on the work and progress that has already been made.

Perhaps I may also raise one specific point about a proposal that was put forward during the discussions on the Offender Rehabilitation Bill that there should be what were described as veterans courts under which former members of the Armed Forces who pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of an offence would receive specific and positive help with rehabilitation, not least through the provision of a mentor. Is this a matter that the Government are considering since one indication of a failed transition can be a court conviction?

We often express our gratitude in this House to our Armed Forces for the courage and commitment they show and for the sacrifices they make on our behalf. We do so again today. We recognise that members of our Armed Forces and their families face particular problems that are not experienced by others in having to make the transition back to civilian life—problems that can arise from the very nature, demands and culture of military life, from the work and responsibilities that our Armed Forces are expected to undertake and from the experiences with which they can be confronted. We all want to make sure that the move back into civilian life is made as successfully as possible for all service personnel. The Transition Mapping Study is a very useful document in helping us to achieve that objective.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, on securing the important debate on the Transition Mapping Study undertaken by the Forces in Mind Trust. I am aware of his long and illustrious career in the Royal Air Force, which spans some 40 years and is reflected in his interest in our Armed Forces personnel today. I thank noble Lords for their kind words to me on this, my first, defence debate. For me, it is a rather a poignant occasion because a few years ago my husband left the Royal Navy after more than 30 years’ service as an officer. Therefore, I have been on the receiving end of what was old-style transition.

Let me begin by first acknowledging the work that the Forces in Mind Trust is undertaking to enhance UK-wide support and advocacy for service personnel, veterans and their families. As your Lordships will know, the transition we are interested in today is the process of a service person, and in many cases their family, leaving the Armed Forces and settling back into civilian life. The aim is to see them in gainful employment, if that is what they want, and with no accommodation, welfare, health or domestic concerns.

As reflected by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, a great majority of Armed Forces personnel who leave the services each year do so successfully. This is, in part, due to the resources invested in them during their service life but also through their own determination and desire to succeed. Employers recognise these qualities. However, a majority is not enough. We must concern ourselves with those who find the transition from military to civilian life difficult and may require some state support.

Your Lordships may find it useful if I set out the transition support already available to those who leave the Armed Forces. While in service, Armed Forces personnel receive accreditation for their professional training. This provides them with formal qualifications to help them to compete with their civilian counterparts on transition. In addition, they are provided with the opportunities and financial support to conduct vocational as well as professional advancement.

Prior to leaving, all Armed Forces personnel are entitled to some form of resettlement assistance. This is provided by the MoD-funded Career Transition Partnership with the amount of support based on length of service. Those who have served six years or more and all those medically discharged or made redundant, regardless of how long they have served, are entitled to a full resettlement programme. This includes a three-day career transition workshop, use of a career consultant, a job-finding service, retraining time and a retraining grant. Those who have served between four and six years are entitled to a package focused mainly on employment support with a bespoke job-finding service and a career interview.

Until this year, those who left prior to four years’ service, often without completing training, were only signposted to support services. Research has suggested that some of these early service leavers needed more. For some, the inability to make a success of a service career comes on top of a background of social issues.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, asked about foreign and Commonwealth personnel. They are valuable members of the Armed Forces. I will ask my noble friend the Minister to write to the noble and gallant Lord on the specific entitlements of these personnel and how we respond to their specific needs.

In 2013 the Ministry of Defence decided that following the successful Forces in Mind Trust pilot in Catterick, early service leavers would have access to transition support. This recent improvement provides them with financial, housing and employment support, including linking them to a Jobcentre Plus. Separate to these structured packages, all service leavers can access lifetime job-finding support through either the Officers’ Association or the Regular Forces Employment Association.

In 2012 the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, was appointed as a veterans’ transition special representative, a need highlighted by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker. In this role he will provide the Ministry of Defence with valuable advice on how we can further support those leaving the Armed Forces. It is expected that the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, will produce an interim report to the Secretary of State for Defence by the end of 2013, with more comprehensive recommendations being made during 2014. He is expected to focus on housing, health, welfare, employment and education.

In addition to the independent review, the Chief of Defence Personnel is undertaking an internal review of the Armed Forces personnel transition programme. In 2015 the contract with the Career Transition Partnership is due to be re-let. This is therefore the right time to assess whether any changes need to be made. While the support offered to service personnel is extensive and largely effective, there may well be areas which could and should be improved. This work will take into account the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, the Forces in Mind Trust and the Centre for Social Justice. I will pass on the helpful comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, to the MoD.

I turn now to the Transition Mapping Study report, Understanding the Transition Process for Service Personnel Returning to Civilian Life. Although the Ministry of Defence did not commission the report, it has acknowledged the good work of the Forces in Mind Trust and supports its desire to improve the transition process for Armed Forces personnel on their return to civilian life. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to the contents of the report and its recommendations, but for those noble Lords who are not familiar with them, I shall highlight some, although I do not intend to list all 26.

The report is helpfully split into three distinct areas covering all aspects of service life: in-service, resettlement and transition. For those still in service, the recommendations include: profiling potential Armed Forces personnel for their aptitude for personal development; increasing the alignment of military vocational training with civilian skills; financial awareness training; and reducing the intensity of deployment. During resettlement, it was recommended that an assessment be made of an individual’s needs to support them to make a successful transition. The possibility of conducting work experience in a civilian environment was also raised, as was providing more resources, particularly for early service leavers. Finally, during transition itself, the recommendations include engaging the family, reviewing post-services housing provision, improving informal one-to-one support and improving the research and monitoring of former Armed Forces personnel after leaving.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and others raised the issues of mental health, homelessness, imprisonment and those who are wounded in service. I hope to be able to address some of those matters. Some recommendations have already been addressed by the Ministry of Defence and were in train prior to the report being published. The early service leavers initiative, although in effect only since 1 October 2013, was implemented early following the positive evaluation of the 2012 pilot scheme. In addition, noble Lords may have seen the media launch in September of MoneyForce, the new training programme and website to help improve the financial awareness of UK Armed Forces personnel. Several noble Lords highlighted this as a serious issue. For the first time ever, personnel will receive structured financial education during basic training to equip them and their families with the best information and tools to make informed financial decisions about their future. MoneyForce is an excellent example of the Armed Forces covenant in action.

The Secretary of State for Defence recently announced the Forces Help to Buy scheme, which will come into effect in March 2014. It is designed to help Armed Forces personnel who want to buy their first home. The scheme aims to address low levels of home ownership in the Armed Forces and overcome the disadvantages that mobility brings, in line with the principles of the Armed Forces covenant. It will support greater lifestyle choice and the retention of personnel. These two financial initiatives are the first step towards creating a through-service awareness of transition. The aim is to create a level of personal independence in Armed Forces personnel that will enable them to make a future successful transition.

In December, officials will meet representatives from the Forces in Mind Trust to discuss its report and look at opportunities for further research to better understand why some individuals do not undertake transition successfully. Regardless of whether the recommendations put forward by the trust have already been implemented or not, the evidence and recommendations made will be used to inform the department’s future work on transition.

I want now to address the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Garden. The three service family federations play a crucial role in ensuring that we know what service families are thinking and allow us to discuss ideas and problems as they arise. We maintain a range of formal and informal contacts with the three federations. For example, the MoD hosts a biannual families working group, which brings together the family federations, the Children’s Education Advisory Service and welfare policy officials to discuss the key issues. The family federations have also had direct contact with Ministers as necessary, including through attendance at annual conferences. Each individual service interacts with its family federation differently, but the three services provide financial support to ensure that this vital link is maintained.

As part of our ongoing commitment to mental health, over £9 million from LIBOR fines has been awarded to programmes supporting mental health in the service community. Mental health among service personnel and veterans is as good as, and in some cases better than, that among the civilian population, and significant effort is put into preventing the onset of mental health problems and providing effective support and treatment when required. Service personnel being discharged from the Armed Forces on mental health grounds are managed by a robust transition care process. I am sure that the Minister will highlight further issues around mental health.

I will move quickly on to homelessness. The majority of service leavers make a smooth transition to private accommodation. The 2012-13 figures reported by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network indicate that 3% of those found sleeping rough in north London claim to have served in our Armed Forces. On leaving the service, the need for social housing becomes a local authority matter. The MoD is working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure the fair treatment of service families in need of social housing and to ensure that they are given proper priority on the waiting list.

It is important that injured personnel are given the support that they need to make a successful transition from service life. Armed Forces personnel who are deemed no longer fit for service as a result of their medical status will be assessed individually and personally. No one will leave the Armed Forces until they have reached a point in their recovery where leaving the Armed Forces is the right decision, however long it takes.

This has been an interesting debate and I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions. The Minister will write to any noble Lords whose questions have not been answered.