Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Soldier, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help (SSAFA FH)


A.   Defence Committee Press Release dated 7 February 2008.

B.   Ministry of Defence Annual Reports and Accounts 2006-07 (fifth report of Session 2007-08, HC 61).

  SSAFA Forces Help (SSAFA FH) have read the references with interest. Noting our expertise in and specialised knowledge of personal support to service personnel and families under its Royal Charter have not so far been consulted by MoD in the specific matters of recruitment and retention, we are pleased to share our observations with HCDC.

  SSAFA Forces Help has experienced a significant rise in the number of cases involving emotional and relationship problems arising from the increased intensity and number of operational deployments over recent years. It must be emphasised that not only spouses are affected but also other individuals closely involved with serving personnel—partners, children, parents and grandparents. Although housing, education, healthcare in the UK and access to benefits are high on the list of service family concerns, and funding and or access to improvements in these areas would improve morale, we note that underlying emotional problems that are often hard to identify are sapping community morale overall. This also has an adverse effect on public perception which could discourage recruitment.

  The turbulence associated with a highly mobile lifestyle for a relatively young population compared with other sectors in the UK, (and this is particularly the case for the Army), places heavy demands on both serving personnel and their families. Frequent moves and associated disruption to education and healthcare, accompanied by poor accommodation, all place the serving community under pressures and stress, which are exacerbated by the frequency of operational deployment.

  SSAFA FH's network of professional social workers, health staff and community volunteers work with and live alongside the serving communities in the UK and overseas. Through this network, SSAFA FH is able to offer professional relationship/emotional support as well as practical befriending assistance by its volunteers. It is their experience that the continued demands on the MoD budget are placing the welfare infrastructure under such pressure that official agencies are now turning to charitable and other agencies to meet unmet needs.

  In the particular and high-profile case of wounded service people, it is clear that the co-ordination of welfare support for both patients and families as the former progress along the patient pathway to recovery needs to be clarified, particularly in relation to boundaries between the many agencies involved. MoD is reviewing the patient pathway but SSAFA FH through its network of professionals and volunteers is aware of cases where both patient and those close to them would still have benefited from more timely, integrated and proactive support. It is not practically possible or always appropriate for MoD to do all of this itself.

  While the number of those seriously affected is quite small compared with other welfare cases, the high profile and publicity that shortfalls in MoD-provided welfare support have attracted could have a potential impact on the morale of not only the serving community but also of their wider families, with potential impact on both retention and attracting new recruits. For this reason, at the request of Secretary of State for Defence, SSAFA FH is forming a working group to set up support for the parents of wounded serving personnel because current MoD-provided support mechanisms are unable to reach them.

  SSAFA FH is also aware that families of TA and reservists, who essentially live in the civilian community, have similar concerns and is exploring ways of supporting this sector of the serving community through its network of volunteers in the UK.

  The effectiveness of MoD's ability to support its serving personnel and their families in general—not just high visibility casualties—is, SSAFA FH suggests, reduced by the lack of consistency and scale in its overall welfare provision as well as in its perception by service users. All three Services provide different models of welfare support which has been accepted by MoD as being compatible with the different modus operandi of each in the Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy on the principles of tolerable variation. Nonetheless, SSAFA FH would suggest that the current focus on the demands of Service organisational and Command structure, rather than the needs of the individual reduces the effective delivery and efficient provision of personal welfare support to service personnel and their families. It is SSAFA FH's experience that the confusion that arises from three different approaches to welfare cases that are often complex and long-term, requiring a smooth, confidential transfer from one location to another such that individuals receive seamless support. There are many reported instances of systemic failure and inconsistent interpretation of welfare regulations based on well-meaning individual understanding resulting in hardship.

  SSAFA FH accepts that the military Chain of Command has a Duty of Care to its personnel and their families. Nonetheless, SSAFA FH has evidence that individual service personnel and their families may be deterred from taking their concerns to military welfare providers for fear of damaging career prospects or not having their personal concerns treated in confidence. Although it is difficult to adduce direct evidence (although strong anecdotal experience from the Confidential Support Line) it is intuitively obvious that perceptions about the provision of personal welfare support may impact on retention and, indeed, recruitment of service personnel. It may be argued that the resultant unresolved emotional and relationship issues will have an impact on these as well as on operational effectiveness of those who continue in Service.

18 March 2008

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