The Defence Secretary's Statement On The Armed Forces Interim Covenant Report - FULL TEXT
Our Armed Forces make great sacrifices on the Nation’s behalf, not only on operations overseas, but in their service in the UK too. This Government recognises that the Nation in turn has a responsibility properly to support them and their families. That is why the Armed Forces Act 2011 recognises the Armed Forces Covenant in law for the first time, and creates an obligation on the Defence Secretary to publish an annual Armed Forces Covenant report.
The Government is today publishing an interim Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report, in advance of the statutory requirement created by the Act. It has been compiled in consultation with the Covenant Reference Group, which brings together officials from across Government with Service charities and Family Federations. The interim report covers the full scope of the Armed Forces Covenant, published on 16 May 2011, and provides a baseline for future statutory reports.
On 16 May 2011 we also published ‘The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow’, copies of which are available in the Library of the House. This document outlines the commitments made by the Government in support of the Covenant. In contrast, today’s interim report is focused on recording progress and a broad survey of areas of interest and concern. These include housing, education, health care and the operation of inquests, as the statutory Armed Forces Covenant report will from next year. It also considers whether our Service men and women are disadvantaged in their ability to access public services, or whether in any areas there is a case that special treatment is justified, and again the statutory report will do the same.
Overall the Report makes clear that while more can and will be done, much has been achieved since the Coalition Programme for Government was published:
- We have doubled the tax free Operational Allowance so that those serving on eligible operations now receive a lump sum of just over £5,000 for a six month tour;
- We have improved Rest and Recuperation leave for those on operations;
- We have endorsed the proposals by my hon. Friend the member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Andrew Murrison) for making improvements in mental health care provision, the majority of which have been implemented fully, and the provision of enhanced prosthetic services for military amputees;
- We have delivered a scheme to provide scholarships to bereaved Service children – to date a total of 22 Further Education and 61 Higher Education scholarships have been awarded for academic years 2010-11 and 2011-12;
- We have delivered more help for those leaving the Service to go on to higher / further education – not least through payment of tuition fees, which has been extended to the spouses or partners taking up the entitlement because of bereavement or injury of a discharged Service person;
- We have introduced the Pupil Premium for the children of those currently serving (£200 per child, rising to £250 next year), amounting to £9 million for 2011-12. In addition, we have made available £3 million per year for state schools with Service children, including those of reservists. Since the launch of this fund, 139 bids from schools have been approved, amounting to £2.9 million for this financial year;
- We have announced a Community Covenant Scheme supported by a £30 million Community Covenant fund. Over 20 councils have signed a covenant with the Armed Forces community in their areas, with more planned in the coming months. More than £750,000 has already been released to support local projects, with further bidding rounds taking place quarterly;
- We have doubled Council Tax Relief for those on eligible operations overseas;
- We are working with Credit Reference Agencies to ensure Service people are not disadvantaged by mobility requirements in accessing credit.
Recognising the key role played by the Covenant Reference Group, the Government has committed itself to publishing, alongside the annual report, any observations which the external members of the group might have on it. The external members have offered their observations on this interim report, and they are reproduced within it. They have drawn attention not only to the progress which has been made, but also to how much remains to be done. The Government welcomes their constructive input and will take careful note of the points made. We are extremely grateful to them for their continued engagement and assistance, as we jointly take work forward on the Armed Forces Covenant.
The Armed Forces Covenant is a matter for the whole of Government, and sustained progress requires both close collaboration across Whitehall and clear Ministerial leadership. My rt Hon Friends, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, have therefore agreed to establish a new Ministerial committee, led by the Minister for Government Policy (the rt Hon Member for West Dorset), to oversee this work and ensure that momentum is maintained. The Prime Minister will chair the first meeting of this new Committee early next year. This new forum will work closely with the Covenant Reference Group, whose key roles including monitoring progress and holding the Government to account will be unchanged. I will chair an annual joint meeting between the two bodies to ensure that the Covenant Reference Group have the opportunity to engage with Ministers directly.