Homelessness Among Veterans

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at on 16 March 2023.

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Photo of Ian Levy Ian Levy Conservative, Blyth Valley

What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to end homelessness among veterans.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to end homelessness among veterans.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)

Research shows that only 0.7% of households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2021 and 2022 had support needs as a result of having served in the armed forces, but we will end veteran homelessness this year via Op Fortitude. This new referral scheme will provide a central point for local authorities and charities to identify those in need and refer them to a network of support.

Photo of Ian Levy Ian Levy Conservative, Blyth Valley

I am aware that the Minister recently visited Forward Assist, where he met veterans from the north-east, including from Blyth and Cramlington in my constituency, and he knows the admirable work that it does helping veterans overcome challenges such as homelessness, mental health difficulties and social isolation. Will he join me in expressing gratitude to everyone at Forward Assist for its commendable efforts in assisting veterans as they transition back to civilian life?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)

My hon. Friend is a huge champion of the charity Forward Assist, which has done incredible work over a long period. The Government and I are clear that there are two groups of veterans who are under- represented in this space. One is foreign and Commonwealth veterans, and the other is women. We are absolutely determined to correct that. I recognise that there are difficult issues, such as military sexual trauma. We launched the women’s strategy only 10 days ago, and I urge all female veterans to contribute to that so that we can make sure that their needs are met.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

I thank the Minister for his response. Can he update the House on what this Government are doing across all nations of the United Kingdom to support veterans who are experiencing homelessness, including in Scotland?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)

Op Fortitude was something we piloted at Christmas, and it will go live in the next six weeks. It is a single, defined pathway out of homelessness that local authorities will be able to refer into. It is backed up by £8.5 million, and it buys 910 supported housing placements. That is across the United Kingdom. We do not want to see any homeless veterans by the end of this year, and we will strain every sinew to make sure we achieve that goal.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

Some 90% of veterans who try to claim personal independence payment for post-traumatic stress disorder have their applications rejected, according to armed forces charities. This is leaving veterans facing homelessness, being reliant on food banks and, in some cases, even considering suicide. Can the Minister explain why it is that veterans are being forced to rely on charities rather than being given the help that they need by this Government?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)

That question might have been relevant six or seven years ago, but this Government have completely transformed how we deal with veterans, particularly vulnerable veterans, in this country, and recognise that there is a transition between charity and Government responsibility. If there are any individual cases, I am more than happy for the hon. Lady to refer them to me. There has never been better support for armed forces veterans in this country than that given today, and I am determined that all veterans will feel the benefit.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Royal British Legion estimated in 2020 that there were up to 4,000 homeless veterans in the UK. In Scotland, there is a duty to find permanent accommodation for all unintentionally homeless applicants, including veterans. Will that exemplar be matched in England and an action group set up? What specifically are this Government doing to help eradicate homelessness, particularly with respect to ex-servicemen and women?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)

I do not recognise those figures at all. There are homeless veterans in this country, including some who are involuntarily sleeping rough because of a lack of provision. We are ending that this year through clear homelessness pathways and through working with Riverside, Stoll and Alabaré and other brilliant service charities to make sure that there are no homeless veterans by the end of this year. Again, if there are any examples, I am more than happy for hon. Members to write to me and I will take up individual cases, but we will end it this year. I remind Members that, if we continue to go around saying that there are lots of homeless veterans when that is not the case, that will be self-defeating as we attempt to make this the best country in which to be a veteran.