The Local Government Information Unit and the Royal British Legion, in our new publication Honouring the Armed Service Community have developed twelve painless steps councils can take to provide real help for this community which has given so much for our country.
First, local authorities should know how many veterans; reservists and armed forces personnel there are in their area and what public services they are accessing. We can then begin to identify any gaps or areas where we need to improve our services. North Yorkshire County Council has mapped locally based MOD employees as part of an exercise to assess their contribution to the local economy. Twelve north eastern English local authority health scrutiny chairs are undertaking a scrutiny review of the physical and mental health of veterans and their transition to civilian life.
Second, involving representatives of the Armed Forces community on Local Strategic Partnership or Local Economic Partnership Boards should ensure their concerns are raised when designing public services. This could prevent any serious omissions and help them to be rectified, early on, where they currently exist. Leicestershire County Council operates an All-Party Working Group on support to the Armed Forces. North Yorkshire Military Civil Integration Project is run by the MOD to ensure service families receive “the same quality and accessibility of services and opportunity as their neighbours in the civil community.”
Third, councils can assume a voluntary duty to consider the needs of veterans in designing and delivering health, housing and education services in their community. This need not need be imposed by central government. It can be designed in cooperation with an organisation such as the Royal British Legion. This charitable body could assess the practices in different authorities and award a quality mark to high performing councils.
Fourth, local authorities could coordinate local businesses to provide discounts to members of the Armed Forces community. Schemes already exist to purchase serving soldiers a free pint, the Ministry of Defence have a discount card for serving personnel and their family. Could councils not organise local businesses to do something similar?
Fifth, public services should recognise that members of the Territorial Army play an important role in national defence. They face problems in obtaining and keeping work given this roles demanding requirements. Manchester City Council supports a ‘Hire A Hero’ campaign, founded by Karen Chadwick and led by ex-Service personnel and Didsbury operate a similar scheme in cooperation with local businesses.
Sixth, those who defend our realm are a prime example of the term ‘key worker’. They deserve the opportunity to own their own house. Service personnel should be made fully aware of the remaining shared ownership opportunities available. Councils could also consider more innovative schemes as outlined here.
Seventh, councils can provide greater priority for service personnel when allocating social housing. Many Armed Forces personnel suffer because their mobile nature (constantly being redeployed) means they are unable to amass sufficient time on a council’s social housing waiting list. Local authorities have a discretionary power to add additional groups to their priority list. North Tyneside “prioritises active Service personnel and those that have left the forces by awarding them Band Two [a higher priority] within the allocations.” Armed Forces personnel can then access social housing, when they leave the forces, without discrimination.
Eighth, if service personnel have been injured on duty, payments which result from these injuries should not count in the means test used to assess whether people are eligible for Disabled Facilities Grants to pay for home adaptions. Denying people support because of payments due to injuries incurred in armed service is reprehensible. These applications should also be dealt with within the statutory time limits – it is the law.
Ninth, children of service personnel deserve the same level of education as other children. Their frequent mobility can affect their access to good schools. It has been suggested that children from services families could be given a higher priority in admissions. However, with the advent of free schools and the reduced power of local authorities to determine admissions, the Government have rightly proposed a £10 million pupil premium for Service children. Oxfordshire County Council has decided to flag Service children to monitor their educational career and ensure appropriate standards are reached, other counties could operate similar scheme to ensure our schools policy delivers for Service families.
Tenth, Armed Forces personnel have a statutory right to priority treatment for injuries incurred during service. Few personnel know of this right and very few health care practitioners know of this right. GPs should be fully informed of the right to priority care. Also time spent waiting for NHS treatment in one area should be carried over to another NHS trust if personnel are deployed elsewhere. Local authorities will also need to consider how patients can practically access care. Catterick Garrison has developed a unique partnership with the MOD, the NHS and a Sure Start centre to ensure Service families can access childcare to allow treatment to take place.
Eleventh, war memorials within the local authority area could be audited to assess their condition. Necessary repairs should be made and where possible remembrance parades should be held in cooperation with voluntary groups.
Twelfth, councils could work with veterans groups in their area to achieve the council’s wider objectives in terms of promoting social cohesion. Schemes like We Also Served, a project operating in Blackburn, which highlights the service of Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in world war two, seem appropriate.
Councils may wish to go further than the proposals outlined here. Councillors will need to pick the measures which will work best in their area. We recognise that some of the policies may not be appropriate for all areas. These policies are meant as helpful suggestions and not required measures but we should all recognise that more can and must be done to ensure our hero’s receive the support they deserve. These measures seem like a good starting point.
The views expressed above are my personal views and not those of my employer or any other organisation with which I am associated.