Last year we published the first UK-wide veterans strategy, which looks at what more we can do to support veterans. We engaged with service charities for ideas on how we can enhance support for our veterans.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Vet Fest, an event that will be held in my constituency this summer, will be a celebration of camaraderie for our armed forces veterans and their families and will raise awareness and money for three important charities: Combat Stress, the Royal British Legion and SSAFA. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and thanking those who are putting on that event for their hard work and dedication, as well as all volunteers across the country who work to support our veterans?
I join my hon. Friend in expressing thanks for what they do, and I encourage volunteers across the country to do likewise through such a great initiative. We are always grateful for the many thousands of volunteers who contribute so much to supporting our veterans community, as I know he does.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware of the Royal British Legion’s excellent campaign to “Stop the Service Charge”. Can he update us on what the Government are doing on the possible removal of visa charges for Commonwealth UK armed forces personnel and their families?
I was delighted to visit the Heyford and Bicester veterans group with my hon. Friend just a few weeks ago and see the amazing work that it is doing to support so many of our veterans. The issue she highlights is vital. The Ministry of Defence continues to work with service personnel and their families to support them, and we are in discussions and working closely with our Home Office colleagues on that important issue.
In the United States, an impressive military charity called Soldier On has established housing co-operatives to give homeless ex-servicemen an affordable place to live and allow them to help control the running of it. Would the Secretary of State consider such an approach here in the UK?
That charity has also been looking at the United Kingdom. We are keen to work closely with it, to see how we can take the lessons learned from the United States and the positive experiences that have been created and ensure that it can benefit people here in the United Kingdom.
Although I certainly endorse the gratitude expressed for the support that many thousands of volunteers give to veterans, is it not time we accepted that it should not be left to charities to look after people who have been injured in the service of their nation? It is not charities that send people into war; it is Governments. What representations has the Secretary of State made to his colleague the Chancellor to ensure that health services, local authorities and other public bodies are adequately resourced, so that the welfare of veterans can be funded from the public purse, rather than relying on charity and volunteers?
This Government have put veterans and our service personnel very much at the heart of not just what the Ministry of Defence does but right across Government. Of course, devolved Governments play a vital role in delivering services. We all recognise the important role that charities play, and they provide a lot of services on behalf of Government, in order to be best able to reach out to people who have served in our armed forces.
I am the proud and entirely unworthy owner of a veterans badge, as my seven years were largely spent in the bar. Is there not an argument that people who truly deserve a veterans badge should have a much more visible symbol of their service, and that perhaps the title should be restricted more to those who truly deserve it, rather than people like me?
Mr Speaker, we will have to see if we can get you one as well in the future.
We are constantly looking at how we can recognise those who have served. The veterans ID card is another important step forward in ensuring that there is true recognition of the service that so many people have given our country.