None at all.
I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the motion to Parliament for debate, and for raising awareness of the significance, strength and qualities of Scotland’s veterans.
The veteran-civilian relationship is complex and often challenging. Throughout history, veterans have served their country and returned with an expectation that the country would ease their transition back into civilian life. That has not always happened, of course. The UK Government spends billions of pounds a year on the military—2.7 per cent of its gross domestic product—but only a tiny fraction of that is spent ensuring that veterans are employed, or, if they are not employed, that they build skills or receive training to ease their transition back into society.
I welcome the publication by the Scottish veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser, of the report, which studies the crucial issue of veteran employability in Scotland. I hope that the Scottish Government and my fellow MSPs embrace the report’s findings and recommendations, as we have an obligation as policy makers to invest in programmes that will help veterans adapt to social, political and economic life. The area in which that can most powerfully and successfully be demonstrated is employment, as the report on employability, skills and learning clearly exhibits.
I highlight the paradox that veterans are able to provide us with protection but struggle to secure employment at an acceptable rate upon returning to the civilian world. The Ministry of Defence recently published statistics that highlight the problem and show that former military personnel are less likely to be in work and more likely to be unemployed than their counterparts among the general Scottish population. Although the numbers show a significant improvement when compared to studies conducted in 2014, they continue to highlight the gap between veterans and non-veterans.
I make special mention of some of the organisations and programmes that help veterans and support them back into employment: SaluteMyJob, Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce, Veterans Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish veterans employment and training service, to name a few. It is crucial that those partners not only secure meaningful and sustained employment for veterans but aid personal fulfilment and development. In my constituency, veterans first point Fife, which was established only last year, consists of veterans along with peer-support workers, clinicians and therapists, who provide information, support, social networking and understanding to promote wellbeing.
I also highlight the importance of addressing the challenges that many female veterans face. We need to recognise that women veterans experience military service in different ways from men. Without intervention, those and other issues can put women veterans at greater risk of unemployment. Therefore, we need to address the individual needs of women through specialised programmes.
The Scottish political agenda emphasises that education is a tool for ensuring a certain level of veteran employability, as barriers to significant and sustainable employment are intensified by the absence of educational attainment. Veteran higher education is often met with resistance due to monetary challenges, lack of acceptance and stress about competing with younger students. In most cases, opting out of higher education is an economic decision. As a response, the Scottish veterans fund has provided crucial financial support in the form of grants. Apprenticeships, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities are not only available but actively encouraged to help to establish networks, while our sense of community allows for an ambitious and generous charitable sector on which many veterans rely.
Although the Scottish Government is supportive of veterans, there remains work to be done to shift the stigma surrounding them that still exists among employers, the media and the public. There are often assumptions and stereotypes regarding veterans that can make some employers reluctant to hire them. However, veterans are assets. Their skills can easily be transferred into a variety of different employment opportunities. I am confident that we can mend the veteran-civilian relationship by guaranteeing that the credentials and talents of veterans are more extensively acknowledged not only by employers but, as importantly, by Scottish society in general.
I again thank Graeme Dey for securing this important debate. I hope that the Scottish veterans commissioner’s recommendations are taken on board.