Veterans Care Sector: Government Role

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 6:27 pm, 25th October 2016

We have a perfect example of why it is so important that the responsibility for veterans runs across the piece in government. As was so rightly pointed out, it is not in my power, as veterans Minister, to force the chief statistician to include this in his survey. If my hon. Friend is right, the Cabinet Office has the right to do that.

Transition is seen as a through-career management process. We are looking at different ways to ensure that from the point that people join the armed forces, they can see that they not only have the possibility of a fulfilling career but are aware that one day they will become a civilian and need to prepare for that. Career transition should start on day one of service and we must communicate this message on the very first day an individual joins. However, where there are veterans who have difficulties in transition, the Government, local authorities and the charitable sector must step in to ensure that they are afforded appropriate support. Alongside the Government, some 2,500 service charities also play a role. Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities, of which many charities are a member, has also created various cluster groups to discuss important issues, such as mental health and housing, where they encourage collective working and provide a forum to raise issues and ideas to implement solutions.

To reiterate some of the points made during the debate in March on the role of charities in the veterans care sector, we value our partnership with the charitable and community sectors. They provide and address wider welfare requirements, particularly for the more vulnerable individuals in the armed forces community. Only last week at the MOD, I chaired the ministerial service charities partnership board, a meeting attended by relevant Government officials and Cobseo charities such as SSAFA, Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion. In recognition of some of the concerns my hon. Friend raises, I reset its role with a focus on co-operation and a strategic approach to discussions, where actions are taken on current and important issues arising in the veterans sector, with a view to ensuring that the MOD, charities and other Government Departments can be held to account. I believe that accountability is important. Frankly, as the Minister with responsibility for veterans, I walk a tightrope when it comes to dealing with charities. Ultimately, I have no power to direct a charity to do anything. Charities are not responsible to Government—they are responsible to their trustees—but I believe that the Government have a role in providing leadership to try to unite the various sectors in supporting veterans. This is a role that I try to fulfil.

On the point about Help for Heroes, it was a charity that started up in 2007. The armed forces had recently re-engaged in Afghanistan and stayed for a further seven years. The support, welfare and treatment initially provided by Help for Heroes bore fruit from the horrendous injuries that our brave service personnel suffered in that conflict. Throughout those seven years and beyond, along with improvements to equipment, we have made great strides in ensuring that the best medical support is available from the MOD, charities and the NHS. I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to both Bryn and Emma Parry, whom I have got to know very well over the last couple of years, and thank them for all their service in leadership of this charity. I wish them well for the future.