Charities urge government to go further with Armed Forces covenant

Twelve military charities have called on the Government to strengthen legislation aimed at protecting members of the armed forces community, claiming it “does not go far enough”.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 8th July 2021, 10:30 pm
British soldiers fire plastic bullets during a riot in Londonderry, 1997
British soldiers fire plastic bullets during a riot in Londonderry, 1997

In an open letter, the groups urged MPs to widen the scope of the Armed Forces Bill currently in the Commons.

The purpose of the Bill is to renew the Armed Forces Act 2006, which needs to be done every five years.

It is set to expire at the end of 2021.

However, an amendment to the bill proposes to make it a new legal duty for public bodies (mainly councils) to give due regard to the Armed Forces Covenant when making decisions about housing, health, and education.

The covenant is a kind of promise, drawn up by the government in 2011, to make sure current and retired personnel are not disadvantaged as a result of having been in the military.

The open letter from the 12 groups says that the amendment should go further, to cover areas including “employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice, and immigration”.

It also said the exemption of national government and devolved administrations is a “major gap”.

Andy Pike, head of policy at the Royal British Legion, said: “Although the Armed Forces Bill contains this welcome strengthening of the covenant into law, it doesn’t go far enough in our opinion.

“It is actually missing out a lot of the areas that affect armed forces members on a day-to-day level.

“At the moment when the Home Office comes up with immigration laws, they don’t have to have due regard for the covenant, so somebody who has been recruited from Fiji, for example, is subject to minimum income threshold to bring their family over.

“Then, when they leave, they’ll be faced with indefinite leave-to-remain fees to get settled status and that comes with a £2,500 price tag.”

Across Great Britain, all 407 local authorities have pledged to uphold it.

The government’s official covenant website says only four out of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils have done so (although, confusingly, it then goes on to list five – Ards & North Down; Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon; Lisburn and Castlereagh; Mid & East Antrim; and Causeway Coast & Glens).

The joint letter is signed by the Royal British Legion, PoppyScotland, The Confederation of Service Charities, Veterans Scotland, SSAFA the Armed Forces charity, Help for Heroes, Combat Stress, Forces in Mind Trust, the Naval Families Federation, Army Families Federation and RAF Families Federation, and RAFA.

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