I welcome the opportunity to speak about the annual veterans update and how both the UK and Scottish Governments can continue to protect and support our veterans who have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, so much to serve our country.
The role of the armed services during the nation’s most recent time of need, Covid-19, cannot be overstated, from setting up hospitals and ensuring that mobile testing units were available, to supporting care homes and rural areas with local testing, including in Peterhead in my local area—that was a real bonus. It is reassuring to know that, once more, in our time of need, the armed forces are ready and able to step up and support us.
It is with that in mind that I am glad to hear that the UK and Scottish Governments continue to work together to achieve the goals set out in “The Strategy for our Veterans” to address the immediate needs of older veterans and develop ways for the newer generation of veterans to be empowered and supported. It is encouraging to note that the Scottish Government’s consultation on veteran support in Scotland found no significant gaps in support for veterans, but it outlined areas where improvements could be made. Indeed, constant improvement in veterans support should always be strived for and achieved.
I am pleased that the UK Government has committed £6 million of extra funding to armed forces charities to support veterans, personnel and their families through the pandemic and has set up a new Office for Veterans’ Affairs. The new office has been tasked with delivering better outcomes for veterans, focusing in particular on mental health, employment and housing. Indeed, the launch of the HeadFIT website, a site that allows 24/7 access to online self-help tools that aim to enhance mood, drive and confidence, as well as manage the stresses of everyday life, shows that there is an important emphasis on ensuring that veterans have access to tools that aid recovery from mental as well as physical trauma.
The Scottish Government has provided significant funding to the unforgotten forces partnership to ensure that it can continue its vital work. The Scottish veterans fund continues to allocate funding to projects ranging from the provision of mental health support and employment opportunities to housing support for veterans.
I would like to highlight the use of the third sector in achieving the goals of “Th e Strategy for our Veterans”. In 2019, there were 291 armed forces charities operating in Scotland. I would particularly like to highlight the efforts of Joyce MacMillan, who is the Scottish co-ordinator of Soldiers off the Street and also runs a charity shop in Fraserburgh that aims to support veterans and their families. Joyce is a real enthusiast, and with her team around her, she makes a real difference to our veterans in the north-east. I thank Joyce for her dedication.
It would be remiss of me not to highlight the extraordinary efforts of armed forces charities in adapting to the challenges of Covid-19 this year and providing opportunities to people to mark remembrance day virtually and through other means. It was a very strange and quiet occasion in Fraserburgh. Normally, we have hundreds of people marching to the monument for the laying of wreaths, but this year it was a very quiet affair.
All of us here recognise the need for help to be available to veterans in their hour of need, just as they continue to be there in our hour of need. I am sure that we all agree that it is an issue that transcends party politics. I call upon the UK and Scottish Governments to work together, with the third sector, to ensure that the needs of our veterans are met.