Veterans’ Welfare: Covid-19

Defence – in the House of Commons on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

What steps his Department is taking to ensure the provision of a high-quality welfare service for veterans during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

What steps his Department is taking to ensure the provision of a high-quality welfare service for veterans during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

The Veterans Welfare Service has continued to provide full support to veterans throughout the covid-19 pandemic.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

Last week I spoke to Forces in the Community, a charity in Broxtowe that supports veterans re-entering civilian life. We agreed that one of the hardest adjustments is finding a rewarding job, and all too often veterans fall at the first application stage because they do not have the “traditional” experience that employers are looking for. The Government have delivered on their manifesto pledge to harness the talent of veterans, guaranteeing an interview if they are applying for a role in the civil service, but we should aim bigger and better. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss a pilot veteran confident employer scheme to be rolled out nationwide, so that more veterans’ skills are recognised and harnessed, and they are given the boost they need to thrive as civilians?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his question, and I commend him on his maiden speech, in which he talked about these issues. I am very clear, and the Department is very clear, that the single biggest factor that can improve the life chances of veterans in this country is having a job. We have more veterans going into employment than ever before, but I would be delighted to meet him and hear about his specific efforts in Broxtowe.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

Will the Minister look at ways to protect the funding in Clwyd South and the wider Wrexham area for the provision of armed forces liaison officers and housing and mental health support for our veterans in these difficult times?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

I would be delighted to look at that. We have secured specific funding during this challenging time—£6 million out of the Treasury, which has gone to over 100 armed forces charities dealing with the unique challenges of this crisis. I am determined that we will realise this Government’s vision to make this the best country in the world to be a veteran. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and find out what more we can do.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Defence)

I want to start by wishing the Minister and his wife a huge congratulations on the birth of their daughter, Audrey.

The Government’s ambition is to make the UK the best country in the world to be a veteran, and the Opposition obviously share that ambition, but for 10 and a half weeks, the telephone service of the Veterans UK helpline was closed. The Minister will no doubt say that there was an email service, but his own figures show that that email service saw an overall reduction of over 10,000 contacts on average per month between April and June this year compared with last year, proving that veterans were not emailing instead. What assessment has he made of the impact of the closure of the telephone service on those people who would normally have called the helpline?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

I thank the hon. Member for her kind comments about my daughter. She is right—the telephone service was briefly suspended while Veterans UK, like every other organisation in the country, tried to reconfigure its services, to ensure that we met the demand out there. We have helped over 13,000 veterans since 23 March. Per month, we make 470,000 pension and compensation scheme payments. I am still unaware—as I was six weeks ago, when I spoke from the Dispatch Box—of a single veteran whose urgent need has not been responded to, but if she is aware of any, I would be more than happy to meet her and find out what we can do better.