Britain does not do enough for its Armed Forces, poll reveals
Britain does not give enough support to its Armed Forces and is lagging behind the US in its treatment of veterans, according to a new poll.
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Seven out of 10 believe we should be doing more to support those who have served their country and 65% say the range of benefits the US gives to its veterans, ranging from travel perks to business loans, shows veterans are more valued in America than here.
The poll of 1000 people was carried out for SSAFA, the country’s longest-established military charity, which provides lifelong care for our forces and their families. It was commissioned ahead of next Saturday’s Armed Forces Day, when ceremonies will take place throughout the country to celebrate their contribution to public life.
SSAFA says it is particularly concerned about the plight of young veterans, many of whom served in Afghanistan. One in 20 veterans under the age of 35 have been forced to take out payday loans and 65% of poll respondents believe the government should do more to help the transition to civilian life. SSAFA is commissioning a research project to find out more about their needs.
The poll found that eight out of 10 people had never heard of the Armed Forces Covenant, which is supposed to ensure that service personnel and veterans are not disadvantaged, compared to other civilians, and allows injured personnel or bereaved families to receive preferential treatment from public services, such as the NHS.
But, when the Covenant’s principles were explained to them, seven out of 10 thought it was fair. And one in five wanted the Covenant to go even further and for its provisions to be made more generous. One in two think service personnel or ex-servicemen and women wounded serving their country should be given preferential NHS treatment.
One in two told pollsters, One Poll, that local authorities and public bodies should be held to account if they sign up to the Covenant, but fail to fulfill their obligations.
The finding comes after the Local Government Ombudsman last week warned that some local authorities were simply paying lip service to the Covenant, but not ensuring it was enforced.
Devon County Council was reprimanded for refusing to provide school transport to a serviceman’s son who was suffering from cancer. For health reasons, the family had moved to a temporary property further away from the school, but the boy wanted to stay there, having already changed school frequently because of his father’s job.
The LGO ruled that because the family’s new home was determined by the father’s career in the Armed Forces the council should have taken notice of the Covenant and provided transport. Devon County Council was asked to apologise to the family and reverse its policy.
David Murray, chief executive of SSAFA, said: “SSAFA works with 90,000 serving personnel, veterans, reservists and their families each year and I can assure you they are not looking for preferential treatment. They are asking to have the same opportunities as everybody else and that neither they, nor their families, are disadvantaged by their service.”
Air Vice Marshal Murray warned that, although one in two poll respondents think of veterans as being aged 45 or over, the reality is that “Generation Afghan” – veterans who served in the most recent conflict - face many problems. Some are struggling to make ends meet, others are having to adjust to life-changing injuries.
He said: “Experience tells us that the full impact of the Afghanistan campaign is yet to be seen. My fear is that, as Afghanistan drops off the front pages and passes into the history books, so those who took part in the most intense front-line combat we have witnessed since the Second World War, will too easily be forgotten.”
He said that, despite the promises made in the Covenant, the Armed Forces, in general, are in danger of remaining a disadvantaged group. “The Covenant is an excellent concept but if its principles are not observed it will achieve nothing.”
One Poll interviewed 1000 adults, aged 18-80, on June 9th-June 10th.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with David Murray, please call 020 7463 9321.