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Service Families

Volume 673: debated on Monday 16 March 2020

Service families are an integral part of the armed forces community. Our support for them includes children’s education, mental wellbeing, partner employment assistance and improved accommodation. Following the independent review by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), we will refresh the UK armed forces families strategy for 2020. The aim is to raise the profile of service families and the issues they face resulting from service life.

Some 48% of those responding to a survey from the Army Families Foundation said they had received no information about the MOD’s future accommodation model. Will the Minister commit to doing much more to make sure that personnel and their families are aware of changes to their accommodation?

The hon. Member is right to raise the challenge of the future accommodation model, or FAM. This is the future for military accommodation in this country, but we have a job of work to do to make sure people understand exactly what it is and, crucially, what it is not. That piece of work is ongoing in the Department at this time.

Recent reports have again demonstrated the difficulties that our Commonwealth personnel have had in dealing with the Home Office, particularly with respect to bringing their families to the UK. Will Ministers now make the case to their colleagues in the Home Office to exempt Commonwealth personnel—as I am sure the Minister would agree, they serve our country with duty and distinction—from the minimum income requirements that prevent them from bringing their spouses or partners and children here.

The Department is not going to start doing so, because this work started two years ago. This work is to alleviate the stresses, particularly the financial implications, for some of our Commonwealth individuals. I pay tribute to them: they add to our organisation in spades. We need to do more to make sure that they feel we treasure them, as we do. Conversations are ongoing with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) who is responsible for immigration; I met him again only last week. We are absolutely determined to meet this challenge—whether about the minimum income requirement or about visas—and I will have further details in due course.

Many families of Northern Ireland veterans are rightly concerned about the treatment of their loved ones, with the ongoing witch hunt against our former service people. Will the Minister confirm to the House that, in the forthcoming legislation, Northern Ireland veterans will take the highest priority because of their age and the imminence of any potential prosecutions?

Let me be absolutely clear with my hon. Friend: in line with our commitment, we are bringing in legislation within 100 days to start ending the process of vexatious claims and the cycle of investigations against our troops. As the Secretary of State has laid out, that will be accompanied by a written statement on Wednesday, giving equivalent protections to those who served in Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend well knows, Northern Ireland issues are for Stormont House, but in this Government we are clear that lawfare is coming to an end, and that extends to those who have served in Northern Ireland.

One great support for armed forces families is the accommodation they live in. In Carterton, we have some REEMA housing that requires renovation and some MOD brownfield sites that need developing, which some Ministers at least have seen. Will the Department work with me to see how we can get this renovation and reworking carried out?

Absolutely. Service housing is a real challenge, especially after taking over an antiquated estate, and the serious challenges in the budgets associated with that over many years. The future accommodation model will provide an answer for some, but the No.1 reason why people leave the military, and an area where retention is difficult, is still the impact of service life on their family. We are determined to tackle that, and I would be more than happy to go and visit with my hon. Friend.

19. SSAFA found that 70% of all former forces personnel with whom it works feel unprepared for civilian life, and that is having a significant impact on their families. What more can the Minister do to help veterans prepare for civilian life once they have left the armed forces? (901548)

The Government are doing more than any before to ensure that that difficult transition from service to civilian life is as seamless as possible. We must remember that 92% of service personnel who leave go into education, employment or training, but there are those who find that challenge particularly difficult. I met the chief executive of SSAFA last week, and I currently meet other chief executives and charity leaders on an almost weekly basis. The Government are shifting the bar in our offer to veterans in this country, and I pay tribute to SSAFA, which is at the front of that.

Will my hon. Friend meet me, and others, to discuss a badge to be worn by members of the immediate family of those killed in action?

My right hon. Friend will know that the immediate next of kin of those killed in action receive the Elizabeth Cross, which was introduced by the previous Administration. I am always willing to have conversations about medallic recognition, and to consider what more we can do, so that people in this country recognise that we match our actions with the words we say from the Dispatch Box, regarding the feelings of a service family who have been through that process, and often sacrificed the greatest on the altar of this nation’s continuing freedom.