How our Councils can champion our veterans

January 14, 2013 10:40 am

When we think of service personnel returning from the frontline we often think of the ‘heroes’ welcome’ – a waiting family, a grateful nation, courage honoured. But what happens after that doesn’t always capture the headlines.

For some military service-leavers the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult and distressing. The plethora of agencies someone comes into contact with to access services or benefits can be disorientating after a military life of order and clear chain of command.  Many do not know what benefits are available to them and how they can be accessed. Work is hard to find for everyone at the moment, but understanding how to transfer military skills or how to re-skill for work in a new sector is an enormous challenge when dealing with the emotional as well as physical transition to civilian life.  As a result, homelessness, mental illness, alcoholism or unemployment can impact on a minority of veterans’ lives.

In opposition Labour has made veterans’ resettlement a priority. We have established and rolled out the Veterans Interview Programme, where major national employers offer guaranteed interviews or increased employment support to service-leavers.  We have also argued for greater support for veterans’ carers, better in-service training, for veterans to get priority access to the Work Programme and for new legal rights to protect service people against discrimination.

Today we are launching a national campaign for all Local Authorities to appoint a Veterans Champion – a single point of contact for all service-leavers.  I will be at Barking and Dagenham, where Council Leader Liam Smith will take on responsibility as Cabinet Member for the Armed Forces. Barking and Dagenham Council are today launching a web page with useful information and details of services on offer for the service community. Across the regions Labour Councils are today announcing Veterans Champions.

I have argued previously that Labour doesn’t need to wait for the next election to become agents of change. We have power in our councils and we have power in our passion for political activism.  I hope that, whether as a Labour group campaigning to change the policies of the non-Labour controlled Council or as a Councillor in a Labour-run Authority, this will be something we can all get behind.

This is not about special treatment; it is about a level playing field.  Veterans are not victims, but just as they face unique challenges overseas their circumstances on their return can be exceptionally difficult. This campaign is about ensuring those that serve get what they deserve: a chance to be part of the society they fought to defend.

It is of course for individual Local Authorities to decide how this would best work for them, their area and their populations, and this would complement the many excellent initiatives already in place.

A Champion would be someone who would provide an integrated support network.  They could make veterans aware of the service charities active in the local area, providing appropriate contact details. They could also offer advice on issues including employment, housing, healthcare, financial management and benefit entitlements.

Another suggestion would be for the Champion to monitor the Council’s work in support of veterans and the wider service community, as well as exploring the potential use of the Community Covenant fund.

Vitally, I have been shocked at how little data the Government holds on what happens to people once they leave the Forces. It could be a huge advance if Champions were to collect information on the service community in the Local Authority area so services can be tailored to specific needs, perhaps establishing contact through ‘drop-in sessions’ or social events.

We can all do more to encourage strengthen the bonds between civilian and military communities. By raising public awareness of veterans’ issues, commemorating sacrifices and holding events to help integrate the Armed Forces community into local life we can build support, but by enabling veterans to contribute to communities with active post-service livelihoods we will build a more reciprocal relationship.

A final suggestion would be for the Veterans Champion to have a personal statement online about why they have taken this role so that those who contact them understand their empathy and support for the Forces and don’t feel they are contacting a faceless voice at the end of the phone line.

Today’s launch builds on Labour’s record of support for our armed forces in government and opposition. Respect and reward for the service community is at the heart of One Nation Labour, giving everyone a stake in society and protecting the very institutions that matter most and bind us together.

Jim Murphy is the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

  • http://twitter.com/robertsjonathan Jonathan Roberts

    Good to see Jim. In my home town there is a large army barracks, and our CLP worked with local businesses to provide discounts to personnel when they returned home from operations in Iraq/Afghanistan – we had hairdressers, restaurants, shops, the local cinema and market traders sign up, and it was done in conjunction with the local Legion. All they had to do was show their ID to receive the discounts. I think this was a really good example of Labour supporting veterans at a local level in a practical way – and I hope it was seen by the army as the community finding a way to say ‘thank you’. Good luck with your initiative.

  • Pingback: Labour to campaign for Veterans Champions in Local Authorities | Labour Friends of the Forces

Latest

  • Comment Polling Clacton polling: What does it say for Labour?

    Clacton polling: What does it say for Labour?

    The date for the by-election in Clacton was confirmed this morning as Thursday, October 9th – not only the day after the Lib Dem conference finishes but also David Cameron’s birthday. The two polls so far in the constituency do not point to many happy returns for the Prime Minister, as the result appears to be a foregone conclusion. At the weekend, a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday gave UKIP a 44% lead over the second place Tories. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Does Labour have a problem with black men?

    Does Labour have a problem with black men?

    Now that may seem a strange question for a Party that has both Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan in its Shadow Cabinet but something troubling is emerging from the current round of Parliamentary selections. Of the 100 constituencies where Labour hopes to make gains or when Labour MPs have announced their retirement/parliamentary by-elections since 2010 so far just three have selected a BME male candidate. And this is from a section of society which is immensely loyal to the Labour […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Why are you Labour?

    Why are you Labour?

    Why are you a member of the Labour Party? I’d been a member for years when someone first asked me that question. On some level I guess I knew the answer, but no-one at any Constituency Labour Party meeting, canvassing session, conference – or even in the pub  –  had ever outright asked me the question. It was Arnie Graf – an American, rather than someone steeped in the party their whole life – who asked me. It was an obvious […]

    Read more →
  • News Eddie Izzard commits to running for “Parliament or Mayor” by 2020

    Eddie Izzard commits to running for “Parliament or Mayor” by 2020

    Comic and actor Eddie Izzard has reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to entering electoral politics by 2020, by going for a Labour parliamentary selection or London Mayor. Izzard is a lifelong Labour supporter (and Londoner) and has spoken in the past of his desire to become London Mayor. However, the recent announcement that Boris Johnson does not intend to stand for a third term has raised the chances of Labour winning the mayoralty in 2016, and thus there being a Labour incumbent in […]

    Read more →
  • News Jowell takes on new London-based role before potential mayoral bid

    Jowell takes on new London-based role before potential mayoral bid

    Tessa Jowell has taken on a new role lecturing at the London School of Economics (LSE), which should give her the time to concentrate on a likely campaign to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor. Jowell, who is standing down as an MP next year, has started her post as Professor of Practice with the LSE Cities and in the Department of Government part-time. Jowell is currently considered one of the front-runners in the race for Labour’s candidacy, but all […]

    Read more →