Is it time to modernise the Armed Forces resettlement system?
It’s a fact of life that when something works for the majority, the minority can get overlooked – and for most veterans, the transition system works. Overwhelmingly, individuals do well when they leave the Armed Forces. Indeed many go on to outperform their civilian counterparts. So why am I asking for the resettlement system to be modernised?
Quite simply, because it is failing people. It is failing a group who, arguably, most need help and denying them opportunities that only longer serving or higher-ranking counterparts tend to use.
I speak as the CEO of an ex-service charity whose clients have served an average of just two years four months and who are struggling to survive. The current transition system is graduated; those who have served the longest, benefit the most. At Veterans Aid we see men and women - often with initially good prospects - experiencing genuine hardship; not because they have done anything wrong, but because they either don’t qualify for all that the transition system offers or because what is on offer is not appropriate to their needs.
There is something in place for those who have only served for a short time, and they are offered guidance, but most are ill-prepared for the fiscal reality of life after discharge. Life in Britain is costly and complex. Many individuals enlisted with only rudimentary education and few life skills; when members of this group ‘walk out of the gate’ they can face significant challenges.
In the recent House of Lords debate about transition Lord Sharpe expressed his surprise that the Individual Resettlement Training Costs (IRTC) grant available to leavers with six or more years’ service was set at just £534. Baroness Stedman-Scott responded by explaining that the grant was actually worth much more because, over a period of 10 years, the training it and other schemes could ‘potentially’ purchase might be worth as much as £9,000.
Amount notwithstanding, this is also a critical issue because many servicemen and women - indeed the majority of VA’s clients - leave before the six-year point.
Even for those who do qualify, a basic grant of £534 is not a huge amount in 21st Century Britain, given that university fees are around £9k per year. As far as I know no service charity will fund such costs, and I am not aware of any university in the UK that has a bursary system for veterans, such as that operating in the USA.
One case that illustrates this lacuna in the system is that of the young female veteran who sought VA’s help after being made suddenly homeless. She had a qualification (a law degree) and was getting regular work as a barrister.
Unfortunately her clients were slow to pay and her landlord, impatient. Unable to settle her outstanding rent she got home from court to find herself locked out. The savings that had funded her studies were all gone so despite three years exemplary service in the Army, and having a ‘prestigious’ job, she was unable to make ends meet.
Many other cases spring to mind; all equally idiosyncratic - and avoidable.
I’m not suggesting that the proverbial baby is jettisoned with the bathwater – the current system has much to recommend it. What I am advocating is modernisation of the system, specifically by introduction of a universal financial empowerment model, designed to allow the dischargee to flourish on their own terms.
This could take the form of a loan of, say, up to £50k to be spent on training/studies/accommodation and/or leave to remain costs. Like the student loan it would be repayable when the recipient reached a designated earnings threshold. Indeed the existing student loan recovery system could be adapted to include service leavers.
Support is presently driven by stove-piped and sequential application processes; services provided by various ‘champions’ and schemes aimed at meeting ‘perceived’ rather than actual needs. We trust 18-year-olds with student loans, yet we force adult veterans to follow routes not necessarily leading to where they want to be.
There is something very disingenuous about a system that allows people to fight for their country one day yet be unable to afford to live and flourish in it the next. And in the final analysis, the ‘loan option’ may be a much cheaper alternative to the current system.
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