My Lords, the vast majority of veterans are able to make a successful transition to life outside the Armed Forces; 84% of veterans are employed within six months of discharge, and these rates compare very favourably with the wider population, where 76% are in employment. The DWP provides support to veterans in a number of ways, including through the early voluntary entry to the work and health programme, and support from its network of Armed Forces champions.
My Lords, in 2019 the Government committed up to £6 million to fund more than 100 Armed Forces champions. They are there to provide personnel, veterans and families with specialist support to find work and transition to civilian life, and they are a key part of the Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces covenant. The Minister has now told me in a Written Answer that they now aim to hire only 50 champions and have a record low of just 34 in post. So why have the Government abandoned this commitment to our Armed Forces, and how much of that £6 million has actually been spent?
The department’s top priority during the pandemic has been to focus on processing claims and paying people quickly. As a result, the planned recruitment for the Armed Forces champion in April 2020 was paused. During that period, there was a lot of liaison with stakeholders and various interested parties and a new model was devised and got real support from all stakeholders. We now have, for the first time, middle-management lead roles and direct customer support for the 50 Armed Forces champions, and this combined support is well supported. In addition to these people, of course the veterans got the full service of all the work coaches in the DWP network.
My Lords, in the UK it is estimated that former Armed Forces personnel are eight times more likely to develop gambling problems than civilians. They suffer from higher rates of mental health issues and alcohol problems, factors which may feed into the higher rate of problem gambling. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to surveying the gambling habits of serving personnel so that we can better provide for our military as they transition to civilian life?
My Lords, I will not disguise my anger and frustration at the recent refusal of the Government to restore war widows’ pensions to those few ladies who lost it on remarriage. Can my noble friend use her considerable powers of persuasion to find a way forward other than by using the name “pension”, which I understand frightens the life out of the Treasury? Could the widows not receive some form of compensation, hardship payment or the like?
To be asked not to frighten the Treasury is quite a challenge—I will think about that one for now. Of course, the Government recognise the unique commitment that service families make to our country and remain sympathetic to the circumstances of those who remarried and cohabited before 1 April. I understand my noble friend’s points, and I will do my best.
An important point is that when people leave the Armed Forces, they have really good skills that are very attractive to employers in both the public and private sectors, and work is done to make sure that all opportunities are made available to those leaving the service.
Can the noble Baroness say what specific support is provided for families—particularly children—of members of our Armed Forces to enable their transition, given that many of them will have spent time in different schools and different locations and may find it difficult to transition after their families leave the services?
The effect on children living in different parts of the country and the world, and the number of schools they have attended, is well known. It is for the MoD to carry out this activity in its resettlement programme. I will ask my friends in the Ministry of Defence to write to the noble Baroness with more detail.
My Lords, it was an enormous honour to serve as the Minister for Veterans, probably the most rewarding job in government. While that is the only ministerial job to have the word “veterans” in its title, it is important to remember that all Ministers have responsibility for veterans. One of the challenges they face is access to information, which is why we created the Veterans’ Gateway. Can my noble friend simply reassure me that her department engages with that portal?
I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that the department engages with the portal. We put veterans and their families in touch with the organisations best placed to help them, and the portal, through the national provision tool, is an absolutely vital part of the service.
My Lords, I recognise the many challenges faced by the members of the Armed Forces in the transition to civilian life, whether it be need for housing or professional care because of physical or mental incapacity through conflict. Can the Minister assure me that all former members of the Armed Forces are equally provided for across the United Kingdom, including those in Northern Ireland?
I am pleased to be able to respond to the noble Lord to say that the Armed Forces covenant legislation is specifically designed to cover equality of service. It covers health, education and housing, and the MoD has worked with closely with the devolved authorities in implementing that.
My Lords, the Government have a duty of care to look after those who have served and a moral responsibility to pick up the tab. That said, will the Minister say what combat-related trauma support is available to women veterans who are actively seeking employment?
I would need to write to the noble Baroness about trauma support because I will need to get the information from the MoD. However, I can give comfort to her and to the whole House: women do very well when it comes to employment after their service. They have good specialist skills such as transport, logistics and medicine, and the support that the DWP gives takes account of individual circumstances and is individually tailored.
My Lords, Dr Hugh Milroy, the CEO of the exemplary military charity Veterans Aid, tells me that the current resettlement system is out of touch with the cost of living today and that he has seen this cause genuine hardship for people with otherwise good prospects. I was surprised to find that the individual resettlement training costs grant available to all leavers with six or more years’ service and all medical discharges is set at £534. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is time to modernise the system by providing access to an innovative financial empowerment model, perhaps like the student loan system?
I am happy to tell my noble friend that while the grant is set at just over £500, the training that it can purchase can be worth thousands of pounds. The Career Transition Partnership contract-funded courses are prepaid by the MoD and it offers other courses as well. Other financial support schemes, such as the enhanced learning credits scheme, can provide up to £3,000. Further financial support of up to £175 per year can be made available through the standard learning credit scheme and the publicly funded further education/higher education scheme provides service leavers with all sorts of support for up to 10 years to a value of up to £9,000. If we need to repackage that, I will be happy to take it back to the department.
My Lords, the integrated review envisages cuts to the regular forces of around 10,000. What work has the DWP done, alongside the MoD, to assess the possible implications for service personnel and their families who will be leaving the forces perhaps rather more unexpectedly than envisaged?
The services offered by the DWP through the plan for jobs and other activities with the Department for Education on skills are wide-ranging, and I know that the Ministry of Defence and the DWP will work in partnership to provide the most relevant services to the people who the noble Baroness rightly says will need help.