Military Covenant

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 16th February 2011.

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Photo of Teresa Pearce Teresa Pearce Labour, Erith and Thamesmead 6:15 pm, 16th February 2011

I am proud to represent my constituency, which has a long military history-the arsenal at Woolwich is on our doorstep, and the new town of Thamesmead was built on arsenal land-but I am also proud to be a member of the Thamesmead Town and Abbey Wood Royal British Legion, and it is on behalf of my fellow members that I want to make just one point.

The Conservatives said in their armed forces manifesto that they would look into Lord Boyce's armed forces compensation scheme review to see whether the reforms were improving things for veterans. I suggest that they also look at how the policies of other Whitehall Departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, will affect the conditions for current and future veterans. The scale of the reduction in benefits following the switch from RPI to CPI will wipe out the increases in lump-sum payments that the previous Government introduced following the Boyce review. Far from improving conditions for veterans, that change will be a backward step and a huge blow to members of the armed forces, war widows and their families, because they rely on pensions earlier than other public sector workers. In their lives, members of the armed forces face the risk of injury-both physical and mental-and so rely on getting their pensions earlier, as do the widows and widowers of servicemen and servicewomen who are killed early in their careers.

Those groups, and those on the war pension scheme and the armed forces compensation scheme, will experience a greater diminution of the relative value of their pension over a greater period. Because of the switch to CPI, a 40-year-old squadron leader will lose £300,000 by the age of 85, which is not right. We should not be telling those who have risked their lives for this country that they must suffer a financial loss on such a scale for the sake of reducing the deficit as quickly as possible. As we heard earlier, the deficit is temporary, but the changes to the pensions of members of our armed forces and of other public sector workers will be permanent-the year-on-year reduction in their pensions will continue long after the structural deficit has been reduced.

I oppose in principle the switch to CPI from RPI, and I am unconvinced by the Government's argument that the former is a better measure. The Government need to postpone that change and to rethink their policy for all public sector workers, but members of our armed forces are a special case. They have served their country, often making huge sacrifices. That also applies to the wider families of personnel. The military service of personnel means that it is likely that they have been away from their families for long periods. We talk about the right to family life in the House when we talk about ourselves, but serving personnel should also have that right. The families of personnel worry every day about the injury or death in service of their loved one, waiting for that phone call or that message, which must be the most awful way to live.

Cutting the pensions of members of the armed services is not the way to reduce the structural deficit. I believe that the deficit can be reduced by greater investment, and a solid strategy for growth over time in a society in which everyone who is able to work does so, and in which we support those who cannot. I urge the Government to review that aspect of their pension policy and to abandon their short-term thinking on the economy, so that members of the armed forces and their families do not pay the price for the banking crisis, in which they had no part.

As the general secretary of the Forces Pension Society, Major-General John Moore-Bick, says, the armed forces pension is "the bedrock of trust" on which members of our forces rely. They know that they or their families will be taken care of in the event of death or wounding, and they can trust that they will have a decent life after active service. We alter that bedrock of trust at our peril, and to our shame.