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Shadow Armed Forces Minister: Covenant must be delivered in full for every member of our Armed Forces

Stephen Morgan MP backed Service Personnel during the second reading of the Armed Forces Bill tonight at the House of Commons, but said the proposals were a ‘missed opportunity’ to make the Armed Forces Covenant a reality for all who serve.

The Shadow Armed Forces Minister is leading Labour’s response to the Bill during its passage through the Commons.

Among other things, the Bill proposes a legal responsibility for public bodies to give ‘due regard’ to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant when accessing public services such as housing, healthcare and education.

Labour criticised the Bill during the debate for being too weak, and that proposals would do little to correct the many ways in which service personnel are disadvantaged.

These include mental health, where the Covenant guarantees access mental health professionals who have an understanding of Armed Forces culture. Yet government statistics reveal that the average waiting time for veteran’s mental health treatment in England was 37 days in 2020, against a government target of 14.

On housing, the Covenant says service personnel are ‘entitled to publicly provided accommodation, it should be of good quality, affordable and suitably located’. Yet, just half (51%) of tri-service personnel say they are satisfied with the standard of their service accommodation.

In the Chamber, Morgan said the Bill ‘does little’ to tackle these issues head on and that the ‘complex legalese’ of ‘due regard’ would do little to make any real impact on the day-to-day lives of forces personnel.

Service charities including the Royal British Legion have also criticised the Bill for being too narrowly focused, containing nothing on pay or employment.

The latest Government statistics reveal forces personnel are seeing higher levels of unemployment after leaving service than the general UK population.

Speaking in the debate today, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP said:

“Instead of lumping extra legal responsibilities on cash-strapped local authorities and other overstretched public bodies, the Bill should set measurable, enforceable, national standards, that central government is accountable for.

“Only then can we truly end the postcode lottery on the Armed Forces Covenant.”

Labour is also considering potential changes to made to the Bill that would compel ministers to report annually on the fighting strength of the military, following reports over the weekend that 32 of 33 infantry battalions are short of battle-ready personnel.

Commenting after the debate, the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, added,

“By setting a legal standard that is below the existing voluntary offers in some areas, the government risks creating a two-tier covenant, and a race to the bottom on services for our forces communities.

“The threat poor conditions pose to our defence capability were made clear this weekend with leaked reports over the weekend suggesting 32 of 33 infantry battalions are dangerously short of battle-ready personnel.

“Labour will press the government to ensure the Covenant is delivered in full for every member of our armed forces, their families and veterans.”

The parliamentary representative has consistently referred to his Grandfather who was a D-Day veteran and founder of Portsmouth Normandy Veterans association, as his motivation for delivering justice for service personnel and their families in Portsmouth and across the country.