Yesterday saw the publication of the 2017 Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report, and the announcement of O2 as the 2,000th signatory of the Covenant in Business. As we celebrate these significant events, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a review of this year’s work – also summarised in a Key Facts booklet and a Covenant on a Page infographic – and update you on key priorities for the Covenant in 2018.
The 2,000th signing is just the tip of the iceberg of the activity in 2017. For serving personnel and their families, this includes:
- the continued success of the Forces Help to Buy scheme;
- better processes to support Service children transferring between schools; and
- agreement from the major broadband providers to waive cancellation fees for Service personnel and their partners when posted abroad (complementing similar schemes already in place for mobile phone contracts and car insurance).
For those approaching the end of their military service, the launch of the Veterans’ Gateway in June – whose start-up was funded by the Covenant Fund – provides a 24/7, one-stop shop for help and sign-posting on a range of topics, including housing, finances, employment and health. The new Gateway is an excellent example of coordinated, easily accessible services designed to make finding information a little more straightforward.
Another priority this year has been ensuring that both veterans and serving personnel have the right access to the relevant health services, both for physical and mental illnesses. Working with the NHS England Transition Intervention Liaison Service, veterans and serving personnel preparing to leave the Armed Forces now enjoy increased access and treatment to appropriate and timely mental health services.
Over 700 organisations have signed the Covenant since this time last year, demonstrating their support with initiatives benefiting the Armed Forces community, including employment opportunities for reservists, veterans and spouses. This advocacy for the Covenant within business, industry and places of learning is a powerful effect-multiplier, and ensures that the Covenant ‘message’ reaches places that we in Defence can’t. Those signatories are unashamed supporters of what our people are doing on behalf of our security and prosperity across the world, and the benefits are mutual.
So what more is going to be done in 2018?
With the creation of the new Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board, there will be strengthened accountability to drive forward delivery across government in all areas of the Covenant.
Among the initiatives for 2018:
- we are going to look for ways to provide increased notice of postings to Service families, to allow more time for the school admissions process;
- Defence will establish a Single Living Accommodation management information system, to provide updates on the condition of the estate and inform key investment decisions;
- credit reference agencies and lenders are aiming to complete system changes to improve the recognition and transfer of individuals’ credit history while they are based at British Forces Post Office addresses;
- NHS England will pilot a veteran-aware accreditation programme for GP surgeries, initially in the West Midlands, before a planned-for national roll out (accredited surgeries will have specialist knowledge of veterans’ issues);
- recently published guidance for local authorities and an independent review of Covenant in Business pledges, will provide focus for work going forward in both the public and private sectors during next year.
What you can do
Much has been achieved, but much remains to be done.
My ask of you is to promote the Covenant. Read about it. Advocate for it. Champion it. Whether that be in the workplace, in your local communities, or with family and friends. The more we share about the Covenant, the more opportunity there is for those who serve, or have served, to find out about the support available to them.
I encourage you all to take the time to read the Covenant annual report, which provides an overview of the commitments made and how we are progressing against them.
All that is left is for me to extend my sincere thanks for everyone’s continuing hard work and commitment to the Covenant. What you do ensures that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly.