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We need a fairer deal for members of the armed forces

There are occasions in life when men and women take up arms and fight, often because they are fighting for a purpose (such as in defence of their homes and for an ideal), but also because they are forced to do so as has often been the case throughout history. But one common thread that binds soldiers together is the uncertainty of what will happen to them on the battlefield, with many tragically losing their lives and others surviving but living with deep physical and mental scars. Society has an obligation to ensure that all veterans of war are adequately provided for, without fear of want and uncertainty, and with the means to live as happy and as prosperous a life as possible.

Although there exists a diverse range of services for veterans provided by both government and charities, the hardships faced by many soldiers upon their return to civilian life demonstrates that this support system is far from perfect. This is evident by the more than 10,000 veterans living without a permanent roof over their heads, together with the 400,000 or so veterans struggling to pay for essentials and forced to choose between eating and heating; a shameful reality that a country as prosperous as ours should not allow to exist. It should also be a matter of concern that at least 10% of the prison population are believed to be comprised of veterans (many of whom suffer from mental health difficulties); a tragic fate for people who risked their lives in carrying out their duties.

Such harrowing statistics not only give an idea of how many veterans fall through the social safety net, but the deficiencies in the level of support available to former members of the Armed Forces. There exist, however, numerous options for lawmakers to adopt to turn this situation around and give ex-service personnel the care and attention they deserve.

A higher education subsidy scheme, modelled after the long-established American GI Bill, would give returning soldiers the financial means to study for qualifications that will help increase their chances of finding high paid and stable employment. Entitlement to free social care should also be made a right for all injured veterans, thus ending the unfair situation in which many former soldiers (due to having sustained injuries at an earlier date than other veterans) are compelled to pay towards the cost of their care through their pension payments. To end the shame of veteran poverty once and for all, a Guaranteed Readjustment Grant, inflation-proofed and possibly fixed at the level of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “Minimum Income Standard,” can provide able-bodied veterans with enough money to meet their needs until finding employment that pays them a regular weekly wage. This grant could also be made available to retired and disabled veterans, providing them with the financial aid they need to live on adequately day by day, and to those veterans in paid work but struggling to get by in the fifth wealthiest nation on Earth.

Such programmes can be paid for not only through increased taxation (perhaps through raising the top rate of income tax to the same level that operates in social-democratic Sweden), but from making cuts to aspects of defence such as the bloated Trident budget and diverting the released funds to programmes geared towards improving the quality of life for veterans. There is also a great deal of public support for more generous levels of support for former service personnel, with 70% of respondents polled by a military charity in June expressing their belief that more help should be given to former members of the Armed Forces. With such overwhelming support for a fairer deal for war veterans, parties of Left and Right in Westminster should find common ground in working together to build a more effective health and social system that does not leave behind any of the soldiers who have sacrificed so much in the service of our country, and which enables them to live as dignified a life as possible.

In the wake of both Remembrance Sunday and the anniversary of the Armistice, it is imperative for lawmakers to honour the memories of those soldiers who died or suffered permanent injury in serving their country by building a welfare state for all veterans that truly rewards their courage and sacrifice. Only then can we truly honour our veterans and finally fulfil the promise made by David Lloyd George in the aftermath of the First World War to make Britain “a land fit for heroes to live in.”