Support for armed forces veterans in Wales
Today the Welsh Affairs Committee launched a report which says that the government should be providing better support to veterans in Wales in areas such as housing and health.
Commenting on the report, Nick Bennett, Group Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru, the membership body for housing associations in Wales, said the report was necessary but not sufficient and that a new ambition was needed to tackle homelessness amongst Veterans.
He said: “We welcome this report, but don’t think it goes far enough. Wales accounts for 5% of the UK population yet it provides 8% of UK military personnel. It is unacceptable that a significant number of our veterans face homelessness. Waiting list for social housing in Wales are continuing to grow and we need to build more affordable homes in order to address this. One of the barriers is availability of land and we are today calling on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to engage with the sector to draw up a memorandum of understanding, so that where suitable sites become available, we can develop social housing to help alleviate the problem.”
There are currently estimated to be more Armed Forces veterans in the UK than at any time since the Second World War: it has been estimated there could be as many as 250,000 Armed Forces veterans in Wales alone today.
A career in the Armed Forces demands a lot of moving around: this can be a real disadvantage for personnel trying to access social housing, because of some local authorities’ requirements for a ‘local connection.’ This is a serious concern. The Committee says local authorities in Wales must follow the guidance set out in UK legislation and the Welsh Government’s Code of Practice to ensure that veterans are prioritised in the allocation of social housing.
A significant minority of military personnel develop mental health problems after they leave the Armed Forces. The establishment of the All Wales Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing Service (AWVHWS) is a welcome improvement to mental health treatment in Wales. The Welsh Government should ensure that the AWVHWS continues to receive sufficient funding. The Committee is very disappointed that the level of care given to veterans is being compromised by the failure to transfer medical records between the MoD and NHS. It says a new system in place to improve this situation must be monitored to ensure it delivers.
There is also a particular concern about charities providing treatments for complex psychological issues that do not meet NICE guidelines. The regulation of charities may be insufficiently robust in this area. The Charity Commission should insist that veterans’ charities which offer medical, psychological or counselling services provide documentation from the relevant professional bodies to confirm that they are fully, appropriately qualified for the services they offer.
The resettlement provision given to members of the Armed Forces by the MoD has improved in recent year but the Committee is concerned that some personnel still do not take it up fully due to a lack of awareness of the services available. The MoD should ensure that all personnel leaving the services are fully aware of all the resettlement support that they are entitled to. The MoD should consider the provision of more appropriate support to early service leavers – who may be leaving because of some problem and are therefore more likely to need more support - and must ensure that reservists are also provided with adequate support to return to civilian life.
The Committee says there also needs to be better co-ordination of the work done by the many charities providing services to veterans, to avoid wasteful duplication and administration costs. There must also be much more stringent inspection of charities’ finances and the Committee says the Cabinet Office should look into this as a matter of urgency.
The Committee found that veterans can struggle to obtain information about the services available to them upon returning to civilian life. The Committee says the Welsh Government should take forward proposals to establish a network of ‘one-stop shops’ for veterans across Wales and encourage all local authorities in Wales that have not yet done so to review their provision for veterans and plan to sign up and support Community Covenants. A great deal of support is available for veterans in Wales, but often a lack of awareness means that support is not taken up. A one-stop shop for veterans – along the lines of the model established in Scotland - would be a convenient way for veterans to access information and receive advice on a range of important issues, such as housing, finances and employment.
David TC Davies MP, Chair of the Committee, said “There are a lot of good services and support being provided in Wales and we don’t the commitment of the Welsh or UK Governments. But our inquiry identified some areas where there are clear problems that need to be rectified and we have put forward practical proposals to do so. There are some “catch 22s” that disadvantage veterans in for example accessing housing and benefits and these must be addressed urgently. We should not be making it harder for people who have served their country in the ultimate way – putting their lives on the line - to access the services and support they need and deserve. For the same reasons, we must ensure that all services, no matter who is providing them, are provided efficiently and to the highest standard.”
“Wales has a long and proud relationship with the Armed Forces and Welsh military personnel have made an enormous contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom and in conflicts around the world. Our veterans have a proud history and are trained to be strong and self-sufficient. We owe it to them to offer strong, high quality support that they can access easily, to give them the tools they need and knowledge of the services that are available when they are leaving service and returning to civilian life.”