Armed Forces Covenant

Part of Bombardier – in the House of Commons at 12:13 pm on 22nd November 2018.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 12:13 pm, 22nd November 2018

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right. He highlights the fact that there is different modelling around the country. He also touches on something that perhaps I can praise him for: he has bothered to understand what is going on in his patch. I hope that we all can be bothered to do that. All hon. Members should take an interest, because of the varying standards around the country, to go in and ask those questions. We have a role to play in upgrading the standards and maybe copying what is happening in his local authority.

To turn back to NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, we have written, at national director and permanent secretary levels, to the chairs of all the health and wellbeing boards, reminding them of the need to update their strategic needs and assessments, and to use the latest annual population survey data, which reflects where the armed forces are based. The Local Government Association, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Care, collects data on all local authorities that have signed the armed forces covenant. It is critical that they do their duty as well. Based on ongoing use of nationally commissioned services, as well as evidence-based research, NHS England’s transition, intervention and liaison complex mental health treatment services are continually reviewed to ensure that both capacity and capability are in place and services are reconfigured to meet both clinical demand and changes to professional practice—that relates to the point Mr Sweeney raised earlier.

The mental health complex treatment service was launched in April. It caters to the individual treatment needs of veterans at community level. This is where we need to ensure that veterans are aware of what support is available. This follows on from the introduction of the transition intervention and liaison services last year, completing the tiered approach to veterans’ mental healthcare.

In addition, there is the Veterans Trauma Network, which collects data, numbers, location and intervention types on all patients who access the service. The VTN steering group is working with the veteran patient cohort and researchers to look at the societal impacts of their injuries and interventions to inform planning and delivery reviews of the service. It is complicated to go into the weeds of the support. Sometimes people might get the impression that little is being done, but support is available, and it is so important that veterans are made aware of where that support is.

Turning to local government, I have touched on the role of the armed forces champion. Again, I encourage every single Member here to go to their local authority and ask, “Who is the armed forces champion?” Find out their name and whether their name is on the local authority’s website. Find out what they do. Are they making sure that every single guideline and rule that the council puts forward is through the prism of understanding what impact it will have on our armed forces and our armed forces community? If there is a homeless issue, what is being done, for example, to make sure that the local authority is providing for the vets who may be homeless? Typically, that is the sort of work that the armed forces champion should focus on. The more that we as Members of Parliament ask these questions, the better we will raise the bar overall.

From a housing perspective, I am pleased that earlier this year, the MOD signed a duty—a statutory requirement—with the new Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to refer individuals leaving the military to local authorities, if they are deemed by their local commanding officer to be at risk of homelessness. That is so important. It means that we should not see people who might end up becoming homeless leaving the armed forces with nowhere to go, because their plight will be flagged up as they depart.

On education, it is important to understand again that not just the armed forces, but their families, are affected by moving. If individual personnel are moved from one locality to another and they have children, this will of course have an impact on schooling and other aspects of education. This is disruptive. Any child can end up moving three or four times during their schooling, and that is not good for their education. We cannot have a situation whereby people move to a new locality and find that they do not get their school of choice. In some cases, I found, horrifically, that when special needs school support is required, individual personnel are not being given that support, and this must change.

We are providing research to understand the impact of mobility on the progression of service children. We are also looking at service children’s progression from an alliance practitioner hub perspective to bring together local partners, including schools, colleges, universities, local authorities and charities, to address the specific needs of service children in a local context. In March 2018, the alliance carried out a UK-wide consultation that identified strong common themes. These will help to improve the evidence base to inform the development of our policy, so that we make sure that we can answer these challenging questions of how we disrupt less and less the lives of children seeking education.