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Veterans’ Access to Support Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd October 2018.

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Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire 12:00 am, 22nd October 2018

What steps he is taking to improve veterans’ access to support services.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

What steps he is taking to improve veterans’ access to support services.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

I recently made a series of announcements on new schemes and initiatives designed to support serving personnel and their families throughout their military careers and beyond. Those include a further package to support armed forces personnel as they enter civilian life, a veterans ID card and a new fund dedicated to supporting the careers of the spouses and civil partners of those who serve.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

I am sure we all agree that more could be done to help veterans when they return to civvy street. Steps have already been taken to improve co-ordination and co-operation between Government Departments on the provision of services for veterans, but what more can be done to improve co-ordination between Departments and local authorities?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The armed forces covenant, which I know his local authorities are members of, plays a vital role in ensuring that armed forces service personnel and those who have served are able to plug into health services, help with finding a home or any other support that it is so vital for local authorities to provide.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Would the Secretary of State consider visiting the Heyford and Bicester veterans’ group, which meets once a month on Fridays in my constituency and provides a one-stop-shop for veterans and their families, where they can access all the services that they need?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

I was hoping that I would get such an invite in the near future, and one has just come along. I would be delighted to visit the group. I know that my hon. Friend does so much work there and is so supportive of them, and I look forward to seeing that at first hand.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Many veterans who have come to my constituency surgeries are being subjected to unnecessary face-to-face medical assessments in order to access social security benefits. Will the Secretary of State speak to his ministerial colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions, to stop that happening?

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

As we approach Remembrance Week, we pay tribute to all those veterans who have served Queen and country, as well as those personnel still serving.

Many of the support services that veterans rely on are delivered by local authorities, but councils across the country have faced deep cuts in recent years, with the Local Government Association estimating that in England alone they will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025. There is a similar picture in devolved nations, due to cuts to the block grant. Bearing in mind the vital role that local authorities play in supporting our veterans, will the Secretary of State join me in urging the Chancellor to rule out any further cuts to local authorities in his Budget next week?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

It is very important that all parts of government, whether local or national, play a role in delivering the very best services for our armed forces. The introduction of a veterans ID card will hopefully go a long way towards helping former service personnel to access the vital services provided by local authorities. That will be an important step forward.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire

I welcome what the Secretary of State says about supporting veterans. My constituent, Lieutenant Colonel L.T., served with distinction for almost 30 years. Ever so typically for a man of his standing, he is more concerned about the investigations into the men he served with in Northern Ireland than where investigations may lead for himself. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those veterans also deserve our support?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

It is clear that both local and national Government, including the Ministry of Defence, owe those who are serving in the armed forces and those who have served a great deal of support, and we will continue to give them every bit of support that we can.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Thankfully the vast majority of personnel and veterans have very good mental health, but we know that there are challenges, particularly for early service leavers. What more can the MOD do to ensure that service members are directed to support services when they leave the forces?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The actual mental health outcomes of service personnel are exceptionally good, but there are service personnel and former service personnel who do need a bit of extra support. The investment of £2 million in the veterans gateway is aimed at helping and supporting veterans and service leavers to access the type of support that they best need once they have left the armed forces.