Today, I am pleased to lay before Parliament the Armed Forces Covenant and Veterans Annual Report 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again seen the Armed Forces step up to support the nation in its hour of need. The UK's promise to support our Armed Forces Community and to ensure they are treated fairly is as important as ever. We owe them a profound debt of gratitude and have a duty to ensure that those who serve, or who have served, in our Armed Forces, and their families, suffer no disadvantage in comparison to other citizens. In some cases, special consideration is appropriate particularly for those such as the injured or the bereaved. This is what the Covenant sets out to do. In the same vein, this Government has committed to making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, acknowledging veterans’ service to this country and setting out our plans in the Strategy for Our Veterans.
Never has the Armed Forces Covenant and support to veterans been more vital, and we recognise that partners across the UK, at all levels of the public, private and charitable sectors, have been working hard to support the Armed Forces Community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to lay this report before Parliament, with the full blessing of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, as a demonstration of that work.
Highlights from this year’s report include:
- The new Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service in England, which launched in October 2020, with seven regional ‘pathfinders’ running until the end of March 2023.
- The launch of Operation COURAGE in England in March 2021, bringing together existing mental-health services for veterans into one comprehensive pathway.
- Record levels of investment in Service Family Accommodation in the financial year 2020/21, with a total of £160 million invested – this investment is enabling 775 long-term empty properties to be completely refurbished, and a further 10,200 properties to be significantly improved.
- The development of a new method for recording and reporting cases of suicide within the veteran community, in order to produce a national measure of the total number of veterans who die by suicide each year – this will enable an understanding of its prevalence to better inform future policy.
But while progress has clearly been made, both this year and across the 10 years since the Covenant was established, more still needs to be done. The next reporting period (October 2021 – September 2022) will see the creation of the new Covenant duty, which will require certain public bodies to have regard to the principles of the Covenant when exercising specific functions in the areas of housing, healthcare and education. It will also see the delivery and initial implementation of the new Armed Forces Families Strategy, providing a framework that reflects modern and diverse family needs and encourages recruitment to and retention in service.
This year’s report is a collaborative effort, with input from service providers and professionals from a diverse array of backgrounds. We would like to thank colleagues across central Government, the Devolved Administrations and local authorities, and those at every level and from every sector who are continuing to drive forward the work of the Covenant and Strategy for Our Veterans. We are also grateful to the external members of the Covenant Reference Group who were consulted throughout the process and provided their independent observations.