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Leading military charities call on government to strengthen Armed Forces Bill to better protect the Armed Forces Community

  • Twelve of the UK’s leading military charities have written an open letter to MPs calling on them to improve the Armed Forces Bill
  • Sector leaders are concerned new legal duties in the Bill do not cover the full range of issues currently affecting our Armed Forces community
  • The charities are urging the Government to widen the Bill’s scope to meet all the needs of those who serve and have served their country

The Royal British Legion has joined together with eleven other leading military charities to urge the Government to strengthen the Armed Forces Bill, currently being considered by the UK parliament, to better support serving personnel, veterans and their families in law.

The military charities welcome the fact that the Bill creates a new legal duty for public bodies to consider the Armed Forces Covenant when making decisions and developing policy. However, they are concerned that the legal requirements only cover limited aspects of housing, health and education and only apply to local government and certain public bodies. This leaves the Armed Forces community without similar protection when it comes to other important issues such as employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration.

The following joint letter has been co-signed by the Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland, Cobseo – The Confederation of Service Charities, Veterans Scotland, SSAFA the Armed Forces charity, Help for Heroes, Combat Stress, Forces in Mind Trust, the Naval Families Federation, Army Families Federation and RAF Families Federation and RAFA.

Sir,

Whether through their contribution to tackling the pandemic, or the recent commemorations of D-Day and VE Day, the unparalleled contribution of those who have served in the Armed Forces continues to be shown. The Armed Forces Covenant is the government’s and the nation’s promise that those men and women – and their families – should not be disadvantaged, and that special consideration may be appropriate, such as for the injured or bereaved.

The Armed Forces Bill currently before the UK Parliament makes welcome provision for a new legal duty on public bodies to give due regard to the Covenant. However, based on our collective experience working with the Armed Forces community, the Bill does not go far enough. The new duty would only apply to local councils and some limited public bodies delivering housing, health and education. This neither reflects the reality of how the Covenant is delivered, nor the full range of issues affecting those in the Armed Forces community.

Even where services are provided locally, they are often based on national guidance. It is therefore a major gap for national government and the devolved administrations to be exempted from the duty that will be imposed on councils and others. This is compounded by the omission of important topics including employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice, and immigration from the Bill’s scope.

Now that the Bill has returned to the Commons, we urge the UK Government and MPs to seize this rare opportunity to deliver on the promise of the Covenant. Such a move would attract widespread consensus and be a fitting recognition of the ongoing service and sacrifice of our brave men and women, and the families who support them.

Charles Byrne, Director General, the Royal British Legion

Mark Collins, Interim Chief Executive, Poppyscotland

General Sir John McColl KCB CBE DSO, Chairman of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities

Chris Hughes, Chairman, Veterans Scotland

Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Gregory, KBE, CB, DL, Chief Executive of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity

Melanie Waters, CEO, Help for Heroes

Jeff Harrison, Interim CEO, Combat Stress

Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust

Collette Musgrave, Chief Executive, Army Families Federation

Maria Lyle, Director, RAF Families Federation

Anna Wright, Chief Executive Officer, Naval Families Federation

Nick Bunting OBE, Secretary General and Group CEO, Royal Air Forces Association

Throughout the life of the Armed Forces Covenant in its present form, the Royal British Legion has repeatedly called for it to be strengthened in law. We therefore welcome the government’s stated support for this position.

It is clear, however, that there are limited legislative opportunities to take action in this area, usually restricted to the Armed Forces Act every five years. We therefore believe that maximum advantage should be taken of this golden opportunity to enhance the delivery of the Covenant to the Armed Forces community and ensure it is fit for purpose for the next ten years.

Background information:

About the Armed Forces Bill:

The Armed Forces Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 26 January 2021.

In addition to renewing the 2006 Act and upholding a single system of law that applies to all service personnel, the Bill makes reforms to the service justice system, addressing areas such as the service courts and summary hearings, along with service police complaints and misconduct, and sentencing, rehabilitation, and posthumous pardons. It also proposes changes to the basis on which reservists can enter voluntary commitments to undertake service or perform additional duties, and makes provisions relating to the service complaints system.

The Bill also makes other provisions following the Government’s manifesto commitment at the last general election that it would “further incorporate the Armed Forces Covenant into law”. With the RBL’s leading involvement in securing the original inclusion of the Covenant in legislation, this is the area in which we take particular interest.

About the Armed Forces Covenant:

The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the government and the nation that members of the Armed Forces – and their families – should not be disadvantaged by their service and that special consideration may be appropriate, such as for the injured or bereaved.

About the Royal British Legion:

The Royal British Legion (RBL) is the UKs largest charity dedicated to supporting the needs of the Armed Forces community, past and present and their families.  The RBL is the champion of Remembrance and safeguards the Armed Forces Covenant. It is well known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem the red poppy. For further information, visit rbl.org.uk.

Registered Charity Number: 219279

About Help for Heroes:

Help for Heroes offers comprehensive support to those who have suffered life-changing injuries and illnesses while serving our country.

About Poppyscotland:

Poppyscotland provides life-changing support to the Armed Forces community. Money raised from the Scottish Poppy Appeal and Poppyscotland’s year-round fundraising enables them to deliver support to members of the Armed Forces community in Scotland by providing tailored funding and assistance. The charity also funds services in advice, employment, housing, mental health, mobility and respite. Please note that we are known as “Poppyscotland”, and not “PoppyScotland” or “Poppy Scotland”. For more information, please visit us at: www.poppyscotland.org.uk.

About Combat Stress:

For more than 100 years, Combat Stress has been the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health. Today, we focus on delivering our specialist treatment and support to veterans with complex mental health issues – those who have several severe mental health conditions arising from military service. With the help of Combat Stress, veterans can tackle the past and take on the future. Demand for our services remains high. To help veterans rebuild their lives, we provide a range of free services including psychiatric and psychological treatment; substance misuse management; art therapy; occupational therapy; peer support; family support; online self-help materials and a 24-hour Helpline (0800 138 1619).

About SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity:

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, has been providing lifelong support to our Forces and their families since 1885. In 2020, our teams of volunteers and employees helped more than 79,000 people in need, the currently serving (both regulars and reserves), veterans from the Second World War and those who have served in more recent conflicts, as well as their families. The SSAFA family includes the Military Wives Choirs, both an independent charity and a subsidiary of SSAFA, which supports women across the military community. SSAFA understands that behind every uniform is a person. And we are here for that person – any time they need us, in any way they need us, for as long as they need us. ssafa.org.uk

About Forces in Mind Trust:

FiMT was founded in November 2011 by a £35 million endowment from the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund). As a member of Cobseo – the Confederation of Service Charities and a permanent member of its Executive Committee, the Trust works within the Armed Forces charities sector, and much more widely, to support the UK’s Armed Forces Community. The mission of FiMT is to enable ex-Service personnel and their families to make a successful and sustainable transition to civilian life. FiMT delivers this mission by generating an evidence base that influences and underpins policy making and service delivery, and by strengthening the Armed Forces charities sector through collaboration and leadership, and by building its capacity. FiMT’s grants and commissions are designed to generate sustained change that improves the lives of ex-Service personnel and their families. FiMT awards grants to support its Change Model based on six outcomes: Housing; Employment; Health; Finance; Criminal Justice System and Relationships.

About Cobseo:

Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities represents, promotes, and furthers the interest of the Armed Forces Community. Its purpose is to maximise the effectiveness, efficiency, and influence of the Service Charity Sector to positively enhance the lives of beneficiaries in the Armed Forces Community. As a membership organisation, it provides a single point of contact for interaction with Government and all other key stakeholders on behalf of its members. It achieves its aims by facilitating the exchange and co-ordination of information, identifying issues of common concern and co-ordinating any appropriate action, and representing and supporting the needs and opinions of members. Cobseo represents over 1,000 Member, Associate, and Affiliate organisations. Cobseo’s principal mechanism for embedding co-operation and collaboration across the Sector is through a series of functional Clusters where organisations specialising in each Cluster subject area come together to raise issues, identify solutions, make recommendations for action and/or improvement, and determine best practice.

About Naval Families Federation:

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the help, support or advice you need. That’s why we’re here.  Our website has the answers to questions we’re often asked. But if you need something else, our friendly team is ready to help, or to introduce you to someone else who can. We’re a totally confidential service, we understand the challenges of Navy life but aren’t a formal part of the Royal Navy. Whether you need help with schools, where you live or work, your finances, your future, a posting overseas, relationships or your health, our concern is always for you, our Royal Navy and Royal Marines family.

About Veterans Scotland:

Veterans Scotland’s aim is to establish cooperation between veterans’ organisations in Scotland, to act as a focal point for matters concerning the ex-Service community within Scotland and to represent these matters to Government. For more information visit www.veteransscotland.co.uk.

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