Ruth Smeeth: We owe our military personnel eternal gratitude – and tangible support
Those who keep us safe deserve support with the challenges they and their families face. It’s our job as MPs to make sure they get it, writes Ruth Smeeth
This year, we celebrate RAF 100, last year it was 100 years of the Wrens, and every year we commemorate the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country and keep us safe. We proudly wear poppies and lay wreaths for Remembrance Day and do our civic duty as Members of Parliament to honour those service personnel who wear a uniform.
The question is though, what do we do beyond celebrate or commemorate? How do we put our gratitude into action? What can and should we do to support current servicemen and women, veterans and their families?
The answer for us must be via the Armed Forces Covenant. As Chair of the APPG for the Armed Forces Covenant in Parliament, I truly believe that there is a job of work for every MP to do, as we not only need to understand the demands we place on our current armed forces but also what we can do to help veterans and their families as constituency MPs.
Our Armed Forces are currently deployed in over 40 countries around the world. Whether it is fighting to defeat Daesh in Syria and Iraq, supporting our NATO allies in Eastern Europe, training other militaries to be self-sufficient or bolstering our own territories in Gibraltar and the Falklands, the men and women of our Armed Forces do extraordinary work, day in- day out, to keep us safe.
Morally we owe them an eternal debt of gratitude, but practically we owe them tangible support with the challenges that they and their families may face. Challenges that they face only because of their service to our nation. These can range from ensuring decent accommodation for service families and securing access to decent and appropriate schools for children of service personnel, to helping military spouses secure gainful and relevant employment.
And even if this wasn’t a moral issue, by failing to tackle these issues we also undermine retention levels across the Tri-Services.
We also have an obligation to help those who have served, who need assistance transitioning to civilian life, ensuring they have relevant skills and appropriate accommodation or those who may need long-term support for a range of health issues.
That is why the Armed Forces Covenant is so important. It is a recognition of our own obligations to those who keep us safe. If we’re not going to replicate the US Department for Veteran Affairs and instead have the Veterans Gateway then MPs along with the third sector are going to have to make sure that the right support is in place in the right places.
The covenant is our collective pledge to support the men and women of our Armed Forces. Signed by over 1300 businesses as well as charities and local councils, it aims to provide a much-needed support network for serving and veteran Armed Forces.
As the Chair of the APPG for the Armed Forces Covenant I’m proud to be working on a cross-party basis to help support and promote the covenant. The next step is forcing IPSA to let MPs become Covenant Employers in our own right. Anne-Marie Trevelyan and I are currently acting as guinea pigs to make sure the system works before we start pestering colleagues!
The APPG gives us the opportunity to share information, to ensure that some of the more difficult issues can be discussed in a non-politically charged environment and that we can actually work together to achieve real change for the members of the extended military family.
The members of our APPG have been at the forefront of providing scrutiny and constructive criticism of government policy, whether that’s the Armed Forces Pay Review or the failings of CarillionAmey at maintaining service accommodation, issues which have a direct impact on people’s day to day lives.
Our service personnel, current and former, deserve the best and it’s our job to make sure they get it.
Ruth Smeeth is Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and chair of the Armed Forces Covenant APPG