Judy Terry is a marketing professional who stood down as a councillor in Suffolk in May
As we approach Remembrance Day, we will be focusing on the debt we owe to our military throughout the generations. It will be especially poignant in 2014 for two reasons: first, it is 100 years since the start of the First World War.
But, second, it coincides with our troops leaving Afghanistan – a conflict on which historians already disagree. One only hopes that the huge personal sacrifice and significant cost (more than £30 billion to the UK, alone) will prove to have benefited a benighted country in a region suffering terrible turmoil.
Tears will undoubtedly be shed as the Great and the Good assemble round memorials across the country, from Whitehall to rural villages, and the magnificent National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. But, as Mayors and dignitaries retire for lunch and a few drinks, it will be all too easy to forget the tragic legacy families and individuals are living with as a direct result of this latest war.
Although we know that 453 service men and women lost their lives, figures for the number of wounded are not so easily forthcoming. However, Help for Heroes recently announced that 70,000 were injured or made sick during the last 13 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 22,000 medically discharged. Many are permanently maimed, with lost limbs, sight, or brain damage. Others have mental health problems arising from the combat stress.
So isn’t it time to reflect on the Military Covenant? It reinforces this country’s commitment to looking after service people, both during their service and in civvy street. The Government affirmed £22m for healthcare and prosthetics but what of the many councils which also signed their own Military Covenants, promising ‘special consideration, as appropriate, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and bereaved…’
Has there been any real progress, apart from grand parades and a few social events? I’ve tried to find the promised ‘action plans’, but without success.
How many councils are prioritising service families in their housing policies, or ensuring that wounded soldiers – whatever their age – are provided with equipment and home adaptations to make life easier? It can take months, or in some cases, years, to get adaptations under normal circumstances! These programmes must be accelerated.
And, are councils actively recruiting ex-service personnel?
I have spent the last year trying to get the private sector to create social enterprises to employ both wounded and retired ex-service men and women; my Local Enterprise Partnership and a college have offered financial support to train and create apprenticeships – but so far no takers. So it’s time for the public sector to rise to the challenge and set an example.
Employers complain that today’s youth lack the skills for the workplace: discipline, persistence, teamworking, responsibility, communication, initiative and leadership – yet these are just the qualities (and more) to be found at all levels in people who serve in the Army, Royal Navy or RAF. They are highly skilled engineers, security, medical and HR professionals, logistics experts. You name it, the services have someone doing it! And they aren’t used to the 9-5 culture, either; if a job needs doing, they do it, providing role models for disaffected young people at the same time.
Leaving Afghanistan means that the sick and wounded won’t have such a high profile in future – the annual Remembrance day will ensure that we dig into our pockets to buy a poppy both in memory of those who died and to enable the Royal British Legion to carry on its excellent work, but isn’t it time to have a Help for Heroes Day. Why not make May Day a time to celebrate the living?
Prince Harry would, I’m sure, delight in being a patron, especially since he has done so much already through sport and Walking with the Wounded to highlight what is possible. These are young people, with their whole lives ahead of them, and it is important that they should be seen and heard – and certainly not forgotten. Although some may never again regain full independence, we must ensure that they – and their families – are as happy and fulfilled as possible.
A Help for Heroes Day should be organised nationally, linked to raising funds for the new Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. The Duke of Westminster has acquired the site himself, and is now leading a £300m fundraising campaign so that it can open in 2017. Not just a centre of care and rehabilitation for the services, it will also be an important research centre. Whilst the Government is a major contributor, additional annual funding from a variety of sources will have to be raised.
Help for Heroes is a marvellous charity, with strong name recognition, and Stanford Hall is something tangible for the public to identify with and generously support, as the British always do.
Council leaders can make this happen, and May Day 2015 could be the first Help for Heroes Day.
A major boost for those whose lives have been changed forever by an IED or bullet; men and women who deserve to be remembered – and celebrated. Not to mention a blessed relief from electioneering!