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

  • Featured Scotland “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    We now have three candidates for Scottish Labour leader, as Jim Murphy’s long-awaited candidacy has been confirmed. The Shadow International Development Secretary and former Scotland Secretary released a statement this evening, saying that his intention is to be Scottish Labour leader and First Minister: “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win. I want to bring Scotland back together after the referendum. There is so much to be proud of in Scotland but so much we […]

    Read more →
  • Comment I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    On Monday the news broke that David Cameron has repeatedly refused a request by Elle magazine to be photographed wearing a t-shirt. Why? Because on it, the t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. There have been a catalogue of ideas floated since about why he might not have done it – “It’s only a mag campaign” or “You shouldn’t dress up the Prime Minister”, say. But really, it’s not important that it was a request from a […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Anas Sarwar: We shouldn’t allow the SNP to “talk left and act right”

    Anas Sarwar: We shouldn’t allow the SNP to “talk left and act right”

    Interim Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar may have formally declared that he will not be entering the race to succeed Johann Lamont, but that has not stopped him analysing where Labour have failed in Scotland over the past few years. In an interview the the Huffington Post, Sarwar identifies the perception that the SNP are more left wing as a problem – even if that belief is misplaced. He said: “The SNP have been allowed to wear our clothes and talk left […]

    Read more →
  • Comment PMQs verdict: What have we learned? That Westminster has tried and failed to control immigration?

    PMQs verdict: What have we learned? That Westminster has tried and failed to control immigration?

    You could tell early on that PMQs was going to be…different, this week. The Prime Minister was sat in his seat like a coiled spring. On the Labour benches opposite, Harriet Harman was wearing a t-shirt reading “This is what a feminist looks like”. Cameron had refused five times to be photographed wearing the same t-shirt, so it was clearly intended to rile him. In reality it simply looked like a stunt, and appeared to have no impact on the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Neil Findlay confirms he is standing for Scottish Labour leader

    Neil Findlay confirms he is standing for Scottish Labour leader

    Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary in the Scottish Parliament, Neil Findlay, has announced his intention to run for leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Findlay’s name has been among the list of potential candidates since Johann Lamont stood down on Friday. There were rumours this morning that Findlay was reconsidering whether to stand following the surprise declaration of Sarah Boyack yesterday. In a statement this lunchtime, however, Findlay says Gordon Brown was the candidate he would not have wanted to run […]

    Read more →