Imagine in a job interview you're asked whether you're planning to stick with your husband, who is serving in the Armed Forces. Imagine as a child you're sent to a different school every 2 years. Imagine you can't get a mobile phone contract, or a loan for a washing machine, or pay for anything by instalments because you don't have a decent enough credit rating.
You don't have to imagine it - welcome to the world of the military family.
With the leaders of the free world (by which I mean Obama, Trudeau and Prince Harry) indulging in advanced YouTube banter around the forthcoming Invictus Games, quite rightly those current and former military personnel who've been wounded, injured or suffered ill health (WIS) are being acknowledged and acclaimed.
But who is standing alongside the other less visible but equally heroic figures, the families? Families of the vast majority who aren't WIS? We at Forces in Mind Trust have just funded the Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) to produce a report asking the question 'what more can be done to support military families, particularly as they transition from military into civilian lives?' The disappointing answer is really, quite a lot.
We know for example that where a family has the non-serving spouse in employment, when that family's serving member leaves the Forces, he or she stands a much better chance of 'transitioning' into civilian life than someone whose spouse is unemployed. But finding employment as a military 'spouse' can be tough.
It's illegal to ask many things in job interviews, such as marital status or sexual preference - but it isn't illegal to ask whether your partner is in the military. CSJ found that some employers discriminate against military spouses, who they fear are likely to 'follow the flag'. How selfish of them to subordinate their career to serving their country.
We say - make the question illegal; although to be fair, many employers do support the Armed Forces, albeit through the pasty-faced company version of the Armed Forces Covenant (Google it), which certainly needs to be given far greater substance.
And education - my children had each attended 5 different primary schools before we gave them continuity at secondary level by finding a suitable boarding school. Add financial penury to the heartbreak of packing the most precious things in your life off to the care of a stranger many miles away, and even now (they're all thriving 20-somethings) I still can't quite believe we did it. But we did, and for my kids, and selfishly for my own career in the RAF, it was the right thing to do.
This isn't about giving publically-subsidised access to posh private schools - the market is in any case moving in the opposite direction - but it is about offering all Service families the feasible option of providing continuity through boarding. Our solution is for the State schools sector to provide greater boarding capacity.
A final glimpse into the life of the military family about to set up on 'civvy street' is the difficulty faced by many in establishing credit worthiness, essential to so much nowadays, from a mortgage to a mobile phone. The peripatetic, sometimes non-UK based, life of the military simply doesn't fit into the standard profile. We need credit agencies to recognize the unique life of the military family, so that when that family does transition, it can do so with at least one small aspect being treated with understanding and empathy.
If we, the taxpayers, support the military family by making it more resilient, if we the public treat such families fairly, then society as a whole benefits. Reducing family breakdowns in the Armed Forces Community by just 20% would yield savings to the State (eg in tax, benefits, healthcare) of around £3 million each year.
So even if the moral argument for supporting the UK's Armed Forces families leaves you cold; and even if the societal benefit of tapping into this enriched source of humankind fails to excite you; you can at least look at the very simple economic calculus.
Do you know what it's like to come home from work and tell your wife and children you're going away for 6 months? How your stomach seems to rise up your throat, and your eyes well until they resemble a pair of goldfish bowls? To tell your children you're going to miss all of their next birthdays? And Christmas? And if the bad guys do get lucky, you might just not come back at all?
I've done this, willingly, and more than once: but it's unbelievably tough. Yet I could never have done so without a strong and resilient wife and family, and they're the ones who really deserve the country's support. Treat them fairly: no more, no less.
Ray Lock CBE is a retired Air Vice-Marshal and Forces in Mind Trust's first Chief Executive
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