Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Naval Families Federation

  Having read the transcript of evidence, I would like to register the following points for you to consider.

    —  Re Armed Forces Day, I would again draw attention to compassion fatigue. We have Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, we don't have Firefighter Day, Teacher Day or Nurses Day. We are in danger of generating compassion fatigue amongst the general public and public sector workers in particular. The impact on the Serving person should be considered also. For many, time at home is precious, would an Armed Forces Day require personnel for parades, services etc?

    —  Serving personnel do have a voice and it is being heard. The NFF has contact from Serving personnel on a regular basis. Our remit is very much a diplomatic two way communication approach as opposed to hard lobbying. This has worked very well on both sides to date.

    —  Whilst being mindful of the good work of SSAFA, I would like to highlight that for Naval Service families in need, the first port of call for the NFF would not be an agency such as SSAFA. We would approach the individual Naval Service charities, smaller more intimate organisations with a specific knowledge of RN circumstances and need.

    —  Historically the old adage Recruit the Man retain the Family has been promoted. I believe that today in order to keep a Serving person engaged you must now Recruit the family to retain the man.

    —  With regard to Welfare I believe that one size does not fit all. For example, I would not like to see any other organisation other than the RM Welfare Service look after the needs of Royal Marines and their families. The Members of the Welfare Team have all had to undergo training as Royal Marines in order to understand the demands placed upon them. Their role within the Corps is valued and respected, and as a direct result as an organisation we get little contact from Royal Marines and their families.

    —  The process for people leaving the Service is an area open to criticism by Veterans. I believe we need to look at this process and make it a more formal event. Having an ID card cut in half and being handed a piece of paper to exit the gate of establishment after 30 years Service is humiliating and disappointing and leaves many with a poor view of the Service. The introduction of Veterans ID cards should be considered also. The people leaving are potentially our "recruiters of the future generations". They're the ones who go into pubs and talk, as far as possible lets make sure they are saying the right thing.

    —  I would like to urge a note of caution on the emphasis placed on focusing on welfare provision for Service personnel who are just joining. For many the Forces offer a step up in terms of benefits—pensions, job security and subsidised housing. Some young people have had input from "Welfare" all their lives and they see joining the Service as a way of moving up and on and doing better than their families did.

    —  I would like to see an emphasis on money management and debt avoidance introduced as a way of encouraging Serving Personnel to plan towards a future. Gratuities do not buy houses any more. The ambition to buy a house is still there. We should be encouraging personnel and creating ways and means of making this possible.

    —  Free food, and as much as you wanted, was always seen as an acknowledgement of the exigencies of Service life, we have introduced Pay As You Dine, albeit as a direct result of serving personnel asking for such a scheme. To date I have had little positive feedback on the subject.

    —  In the age of "Easy Jet", "Join the Navy and see the world" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. There are those who join with an aspiration to travel and are repeatedly disappointed because of repetitive operational tasking.

    —  The effect of the negative Press, poor housing as an example, may not encourage senior family members to, in turn, encourage their young people to join the Service, this may be exacerbated by a lack of experience or knowledge about the service from senior members of the close family.

    —  Those people who choose to be in long term Partnerships may find it a challenge and an unattractive option, as accommodation and some allowances, are only provided if you are married or in a Civil Partnership.

    —  Advertising for the services: we should be careful how and where we do it (compassion fatigue and misinforming people on what to expect from Life in the Forces).

    —  Recruiters: what are they telling potential recruits? How do they engage with them in the build-up to them joining the Service (we have anecdotal evidence of some youngsters withdrawing their applications to join because it is taking too long, and they feel that the Service has lost interest in them). The recruiters must also give a true picture of what the branch or specialisation offers. We spoke to a young lad who wanted to become a medic and was persuaded he should be a stoker! Not quite the same thing. I acknowledge that this is a complex area and that much of the evidence is anecdotal, but I believe it is an area of concern that should be considered.

    —  Youngsters new to the Navy must be kept busy and engaged after Phase 2 training as this is potentially the time they can lose interest. When they actually start their first job and find they aren't going to sea as they expected, but remain alongside paying food and accommodation charges and doing less than desirable jobs to keep busy.

    —  We must be aware that in some cases we may be setting people up to fail where RT scores are too low for the job training and job specification or fitness is a problem. What message does this send back to local communities when youngsters who don't even manage to complete training return home?

    —  No mention was made of engaging with parents. A considerable amount of contact with the NFF comes from parents. Often they are the driving force behind young people joining the Service, and also staying in when things become tough. I believe we need to think about how we engage with the wider family of prospective recruits and new joiners.

    —  The RN has a disparate community with families spread across the country. Data Protection prevents the Services from contacting families directly, something a significant percentage of families said they would welcome (Families Attitude Survey). We are currently hoping that a JPA compliant method of communicating with families directly will be in place by November 08. It is important that this should be an opt out facility not opt in or we are back to relying on the Serving person to get the message home, which is far from ideal. The internet, families' days and events on board ships and in establishments go some way towards making direct contact with families, but only work if the family know an event is on.

    —  Family members of Single personnel have expressed dissatisfaction on not being able to make use of their serving family members' warrants in order to join them at family orientated events. For example a ship based in Portsmouth holds a families day at sea, and the family live in Scotland—the cost of attending is prohibitive, so they don't come.

  We asked a cross section of families the question "What one change in policy would make you and/or your partner recommend the RN/RM as a career to others?"

  Some of the answers we received are as follows:

    "For Royal Marines drafts to last a more sensible length of time—three to five years in order to allow families to settle and for children not to have to change schools so often."

    "Family included in medical and dental provision currently offered to Serving personnel."

    "Better standard, and more accommodation."

    "Housing is poor, sort out the housing process." (Comment from the West country)

    "Shorter deployments".

    "Pay the serving person enough so they don't have to claim benefits (child tax credit)"

    "More money, better promotion and prospects."

    "More money for educational qualifications."

    "Bring back military hospitals which can then care for families."

    "The educational authority should take into account the needs of Service families when allocating school places."

    "The erosion of `perks' over the years which had previously engendered an esprit de corps eg sports facilities."

    "More consideration of the family and not just to the Service, a supportive family is essential."

    "More manpower so personnel are not so stressed."

13 May 2008

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