Appointment of Veterans' Minister - at last!

Posted On: 
29th July 2019

CEO of Veteran's Aid Dr Hugh Milroy writes that he is delighted to see the appointment of a dedicated Minister after years of urging Governments to support UK veterans. 

Creation of a Charter for Veterans would seem like an obvious next step, writes Dr Hugh Milroy.
Credit: 
PA Images

A round of applause for the Prime Minister. After years of urging Governments to give teeth to support for UK veterans (The Times, 2013)  I am delighted to see the appointment of a dedicated Minister.

At last the 2.5m ex-servicemen and women in this country will have representation at the top table. The appointment is everything I’ve been fighting for. After almost 20 years of advocacy, appealing to politicians and through the media, I am relieved to see natural justice and common sense prevail.  

It’s a great initiative, but it’s only a start.

For too long policy relating to veterans has been reactive – driven by response to perceived issues rather than actual need. I say that with the experience of someone who has worked in the field for more than 25 years and been directly involved with large numbers of veterans in poverty related crisis.

Mr Mercer’s new role is apparently to oversee all veterans’ issues across Government, including housing, mental health support and employment. In particular, I welcome this aspect as I have yet to come across a client who has a single-issue problem. This breadth of this remit is key, because the future must embrace the needs of all veterans rather than issues promoted by charities and individuals who have the capacity to lobby. 

It is vital that the post does not become a route to funding for the favoured few, at a time when the large charities have the capacity to get financially larger at the expense of smaller ones. A hard look at the reserves of some charities makes for shocking reading. 

Against this background, perhaps the instinct to throw money at problems that are allegedly getting worse should be curbed, and replaced by a policy of outcome-led funding?   

Large charities do not necessarily speak for everyone and, to ensure that all veterans are included under the umbrella of the new office, great care must be taken to avoid conflicts of interest. Big does not necessarily mean relevant and  overwhelmingly the issues that we see at Veterans Aid have little to do with those addressed by current policies. Equally we must guard against creating a tyranny of the minority – something that  frequently involves the extrapolation of relatively small issues that are repackaged as problems universal to the veteran community.  Sadly this can be  sparked by “research”, initiated by those who may have a vested interests in an outcome and, more worryingly, utilising data based on unverified service.

On a more positive note, I welcome the ‘cross Government’ remit, because those who seek support from  Veterans Aid ( 812 in 2018 ) are individuals with complex, multi-faceted, socio-economic problems, largely unrelated to their military service.

I’m sure that both the Prime Minister and Mr Mercer have the best interests of veterans at heart, but there is a danger of single issue causes which – while important and perhaps politically popular - may not relate to the welfare or wellbeing of the majority of Britain’s veterans.

Going forward, I believe that consideration should be given to the creation of a truly independent veterans observer and initiation of an exercise to ask all veterans in the UK what they would like to see enshrined in law.

They are not an homogenous community and most want simply to be a part of society, rather than apart from it or identified by  stereotypes. Creation of a Charter for Veterans, based on the outcome of the consultation, would seem like an obvious next step.

Above all veterans must at know what their rights are and not be told what’s important to them by large charities, the media or senior officers who think they understand what life in Britain is like.

In this instance, and for generations of veterans to come, we must emulate Jeremy Bentham and JS Mill and seize the opportunity to do the greatest good for the greatest number, not just the vociferous few.