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Armed Forces Week: Labour launches veterans survey ahead of key debate in Parliament

Labour has launched a veterans survey for members of the Armed Forces community in Portsmouth and across the country today, ahead of a key debate in Parliament when Stephen Morgan MP led the party’s efforts to secure improvements to the government’s Armed Forces Bill.

The survey will gather the views of veterans, veterans’ charities and support groups on the quality of support that is already in place and additional support that could be given to make sure that no veterans are left behind.

The consultation has been launched as the Commons today debates the Armed Forces Bill, where Labour will accuse the government of cutting help for veterans and failing on their pledge to Forces personnel to put the Armed Forces Covenant, a charter designed to ensure the Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly, fully into law.

Labour will also look to widen the scope of the Armed Forces Bill to deliver on the promises of the Covenant in areas like employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration; address the scandal of visa fees for Commonwealth veterans; and improve service justice by pushing for rape and serious offences to be tried in civilian courts.

Under current rules, Commonwealth personnel face a fee of £2,389 per person to continue to live in the UK after having served at least four years. It means that someone with a partner and two children could face a bill of almost £10,000 to stay in Britain.

Service charities are also concerned that the scope of the Bill is too narrow, containing nothing specific on issues like employment. Labour will be pushing to widen the scope of the legislation to ensure that all areas of potential disadvantage are addressed and end the ‘postcode lottery’ on veteran’s access to services.

During his speech in the House of Commons debate today, the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan, is expected to say:

“The Bill piles new and vague legal responsibilities to deliver the Covenant on a wide range of public bodies, but mysteriously these do not apply to central government.

“In practice, this would create a farcical reality where the chair of school governors has a legal responsibility to have ‘due regard’ to the Armed Forces Covenant, but government departments – including the Ministry of Defence – would not.

“As the Legion themselves have pointed out: ‘many of the policy areas in which members of the Armed Forces community experience difficulty are the responsibility of national government or based on national guidance.’

“Ministers must not be allowed to outsource the delivery of the important promises of the Armed Forces Covenant.

“The Bill’s limited focus on housing, healthcare and education risks creating a ‘two-tier’ Covenant.

“This could start a race to the bottom on standards in other areas and will bake in the existing postcode lottery on access to services.

“Social care, pensions, employment and immigration are among the long list of areas we know will not be covered by this once-in-a-Parliament piece of legislation as it stands.

“The exclusion of the Ministry of Defence in the responsible public bodies also means the Bill offers little to actively serving personnel – who have gone above and beyond to support our frontline response to the pandemic in the past year.

“Labour’s amendments 1 – 4 would force Ministers to take the same legal responsibility for delivering the promises of the Covenant as they are placing on other public bodies.”

On issues relating to Commonwealth veterans, it is expected he will say:

“Labour’s amendment would see those who have served more than four years pay only the cost price for their application for ILR. That’s 234 pounds, down from 2,389 pounds.

“That’s a 90% reduction and a long-overdue step towards ensuring these veterans can live in the country they have fought for.

“The new Veterans Minister proudly supported similar proposals as a backbencher. In 2019 he signed a letter with more than 60 Conservative MPs urging the then Chancellor to drop the fees.

“Our amendment New Clause 7 gives the Minister the chance to deliver on his promise to these veterans.”

The Portsmouth MP, added:

“As a nation we have a responsibility to all of our citizens; particularly those who put their lives at risk to keep us safe. 

One veteran who doesn’t get the support they need is one too many. We cannot let anyone slip through the cracks.

“That’s why this Armed Forces Week I am launching Labour’s local veterans’ survey in Portsmouth to hear from local veterans and veterans’ charities about their experiences – as I continue today to work to secure the support they deserve from the government’s Armed Forces Bill.”

The debate for the Armed Forces Bill will be taking place this afternoon in the House of Commons.

To complete the survey visit: https://action.labour.org.uk/page/84779/data/1