5 Future progress |
72. Our inquiry has identified a number of areas
where progress could be made on improving support for the Armed
Forces Community in Northern Ireland, and also ways in which HM
Government could better engage with the Northern Ireland Executive
on the Armed Forces Covenant. We explore these below.
Improved engagement with the
Northern Ireland Executive
73. Although the Northern Ireland Executive had not
discussed the Armed Forces Covenant collectively, the evidence
we have received showed that a number of Northern Ireland Departments
were engaged with both the Armed Forces Community in Northern
Ireland and with HM Government.
74. In particular, the statements by Edwin Poots
MLA, Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and
Nelson McCausland MLA, Minister for Social Development, that they
would be happy to respond to a request to contribute to future
Annual Reports on the Armed Forces Covenant were extremely encouraging.
The Minister of State for Northern Ireland said he believed that
engaging with individual ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive
was the way to move forward on this issue, and that he was planning
to write to individual ministers to gauge their willingness to
75. We are grateful to Mr Poots and to Mr McCausland
for giving evidence to us on this inquiry, and particularly welcome
their statements that they would be happy to contribute to future
Annual Reports on the Armed Forces Covenant. We recommend that
the Ministry of Defence approach individual Ministers of Northern
Ireland departments when seeking responses from the devolved administrations
for future Annual Reports. This would enable the Secretary of
State for Defence to report on the at least some of the areas
where progress had been made and also areas where more needed
to be done.
76. We also questioned the Northern Ireland ministers
on the possibility of appointing an Armed Forces Advocate, similar
to that appointed by the Welsh and the Scottish Governments, who
could take responsibility for policy affecting the Armed Forces
Community, and also represent Northern Ireland on the Covenant
Reference Group. Mr Poots said that it might be possible to "appoint
an armed forces advocate from a single Department, which other
Departments could then use to support them in the work that they
77. The Minister of State for Northern Ireland told
us that HM Government would very much like to see a Northern Ireland
Executive representative on the Covenant Reference Group, and
whether this was a particular person appointed as an advocate,
or various individuals from different Northern Ireland departments,
their contribution would be welcome. The MoD also said that having
Armed Forces advocates appointed by the Scottish and the Welsh
Governments made liaison on issues affecting the Armed Forces
easier, but that ultimately such an appointment was a matter for
the Northern Ireland Executive.
78. The possibility of a Northern Ireland department
appointing an Armed Forces advocate is extremely welcome. The
advocate could work with other Northern Ireland departments on
policy affecting the Armed Forces Community, and engage with HM
Government and the Covenant Reference Group to ensure the work
of the Northern Ireland Executive in this area is promoted. We
appreciate that the appointment of such an individual is a matter
for the Northern Ireland Executive, but we urge the NIO and
the MoD to continue to work with the Executive towards such an
Role of HM Government
79. The written evidence from the Royal British Legion
made the case that in situations where a former member of the
Armed Forces person was facing particular difficulty, it would
be beneficial to have some means whereby they could raise their
Minister of State for Northern Ireland told us that it would soon
be possible to contact a senior official at the Northern Ireland
Office regarding any concerns the Armed Forces Community had about
the level of support available, and that this official would be
responsible for following up on any problems that were raised.
80. In its written evidence, the Northern Ireland
Office also set out areas of difference in how the Armed Forces
Covenant had been applied in Northern Ireland compared to the
rest of the United Kingdom, and further action HM Government planned
to take, where appropriate.
· Provision of IVF treatment: NI currently
provides only one round of IVF treatment, due to budgetary constraints.
The NIO's memorandum stated:
If the fewer number of cycles in NI proves to
be an enduring problem, officials will explore if provision can
be funded/provided elsewhere, for example private treatment funded
by a charity or exceptionally, for a veteran, treatment at the
MOD facility within the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
· Priority for social housing: in England,
Scotland and Wales many local authorities award priority to members
of the Armed Forces applying for social housing. This was not
the case in Northern Ireland. The NIO's memorandum stated that
no further action on this was proposed, as "homelessness
of ex-Servicemen/women is not considered an issue."
· Further and Higher Education Scheme: this
scheme paid the tuition fees of Service leavers living in England,
Scotland and Wales when they study for a first full Level 3 qualification,
a first undergraduate or foundation degree, or a first HNC or
HND. No provision is made at present in Northern Ireland. The
NIO's memorandum stated that they understood this matter to be
under consideration by the Northern Ireland Minister for Employment
· Community Covenant Grants: as no local
authorities in Northern Ireland had signed up to Community Covenant,
they were not able to apply for grants under the Community Covenant
Grant Scheme. The NIO's memorandum stated that an alternative
system has been established under which applications can be submitted
via 38 (Irish) Brigade.
81. We welcome the commitment which the Northern
Ireland Office has shown to implementing the Armed Forces Covenant
in Northern Ireland, by establishing the Northern Ireland Veterans
Forum, establishing a system whereby members for the Armed Forces
Community may raise concerns, and setting out plans for addressing
shortfalls in current provisions. We ask to be kept updated
of progress on implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in
Northern Ireland, so that we can pursue areas where more needs
to be done.
Projects to support the Armed
82. A number of witnesses, and those we met with
during our visit to Washington DC, also raised specific areas
where projects could be put in place in Northern Ireland to support
the Armed Forces Community. These included:
· Drop-in centres for ex-service personnel
to give advice on benefits, job prospects and other matters;
· Improved provision of information,
· Veterans Treatment Courts.
83. A number of witnesses suggested that having
drop-in centres where veterans could access the full range of
advice and support available to them at one location would be
a significant benefit. There is currently a similar centre in
Scotland, the Veterans First Point Centre in Edinburgh, which
provides a "one-stop shop for veterans and their families
living in Lothian".
The scheme is funded by the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian,
and has a budget of around £260,000 a year.
84. When asked about the feasibility of a similar
arrangement in Northern Ireland, Rear Admiral Williams told us
that the Veterans First Point Centre is "one of those
things that we see as working particularly well and is certainly
offered up as best practice and a model that one might wish to
Mr Francois made the point that the project in Edinburgh was funded
by the Scottish Government in co-operation with NHS Lothian, and
it was not directly funded by the MoD.
85. The Royal British Legion gave evidence that as
part of their restructuring they would be opening 16 area offices
across the UK, one of which would be in Belfast, which would be
"a local dropin or popin type centre, a onestop
shop, if you like, where somebody can call in, get advice and
86. There would clearly be a benefit in having
a centre, or centres, where members of the Armed Forces Community
in Northern Ireland could access the full range of support and
advice available to them. We recommend that HM Government
works with the Northern Ireland Executive and Armed Forces organisations
operating in Northern Ireland to establish how this might best
be done, and how such a scheme could be funded.
PROVISION OF INFORMATION
87. We understand that the first output from the
Northern Ireland Veterans Forum set up by the Minister of State
for Northern Ireland will be a pamphlet which details the
responsibilities of every charitable organisation and every Government
agency, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other such
organisations, and which will be made widely available.
88. During our recent meeting in Washington DC with
the Department of Veterans Affairs, we were told about a book
of Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors which
is issued to all Service Personnel when they leave military service.
The book outlines the full range of benefits and services veterans
are entitled to in the US, and is updated on an annual basis.
The Minister of State for Northern Ireland said that it would
be "really useful" for the pamphlet the Northern Ireland
Veterans Forum was producing to be used for a similar purpose.
89. We believe that there are significant benefits
to improving the level of information provided to the Armed Forces
Community about the support available to them. The pamphlet that
is being produced by the Northern Ireland Veterans Forum is a
good first step, and we recommend that this is distributed
to all service-leavers establishing themselves in Northern Ireland.
We also recommend that the MoD consider producing a comprehensive
guide to benefits, in line with that issued to all service-leavers
in the US.
VETERANS TREATMENT COURTS
90. During our meetings in Washington DC, we met
with Rob McDonald, a Criminal Justice Consultant working for a
Veterans Treatment Court in Little Rock, Arkansas. These courts
are part of the normal United States legal system, but deal exclusively
with minor offences involving veterans. Those involved in the
Veterans Treatment Courts have an understanding of the problems
that veterans of the Armed Forces may be dealing with, and the
courts also provide support in accessing benefits and treatment
for problems such as mental health problems. When questioned on
the possibility of a similar system being trialled in the UK,
the Minister of State for Northern Ireland told us that did not
see the need, but he would speak to colleagues in the Ministry
of Justice about it.
91. We recommend that HM Government investigates
the specific circumstances of veterans coming before the criminal
justice system, and considers how their cases can be best dealt
92. In addition to the provision of public services,
the Armed Forces Covenant also relates to "commercial services"
and "private organisations", and two aspects of this
we took evidence on was difficulties the Armed Forces Community
faced in accessing certain types of insurance, and also the possibility
of reducing the cost of the MoD's Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.
Christopher Jordan, Managing Director of Bureau Insurance, an
insurance organisation that specialises in "uncomfortable
risks", told us that members of the Armed Forces found life
insurance and personal accident insurance more difficult and more
expensive to access.
When applying for these products, insurance companies will either
exclude the "war risk" of serving soldiers,
or quote for it at a very high margin.
Mr Jordan told us about plans to establish a not-for-profit insurance
company that would be able provide insurance products to members
of the Armed Forces Community with reduced premiums.
93. We were also told about the Armed Forces Compensation
Scheme (AFCS) (previously War Disablement Pension), the MoD scheme
which provides cover for members of the Armed Forces who are injured,
disabled or bereaved as a result of service. The scheme provides
lump sum payments of up to £570,000 for pain and suffering
in relation to injuries and illnesses, and also Guaranteed Income
Payments for the most serious injuries and illnesses, which can
provide an income stream of over £1 million over a lifetime.
Mr Jordan said that the AFCS was a very good scheme, and very
worthwhile to the Armed Forces,
but that given the maximum level of compensation was around £1.5
million, members of the Armed Forces might want to top that up
through life insurance or personal accident insurance. He also
said that there were possible cost savings if the AFCS was administered
by the insurance industry on behalf of the MoD. This could "bring
the insurance industry's expertise to bear on administration",
and "[look] at lawyer-led claims and whether those are being
94. In addition to the action taken by HM Government
and the devolved administrations in implementing the Armed Forces
Covenant, many local authorities across GB have also signed up
to "Community Covenants". These are intended to complement,
at a local level, the Armed Forces Covenant. The aims of the Armed
Forces Community covenant are to:
· encourage local communities to support
the armed forces community in their areas nurture public understanding
and awareness among the public of issues affecting the armed forces
· recognise and remember the sacrifices
faced by the Armed Forces Community;
· encourage activities which help to integrate
the Armed Forces Community into local life, and
· to encourage the Armed Forces Community
to help and support the wider community, whether through participation
in events and joint projects, or other forms of engagement.
As of June 2013, 291 local authorities in England
had signed up to the Community Covenant, with 15 in Wales and
all 32 of the local authorities in Scotland , but none in Northern
95. The Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and
Veterans told us that he would "like to see local authorities
in Northern Ireland, where they want to, adopting a Community
Covenant," but that pressing for this from London was not
the best way of achieving this.
However, there could be a case for the Northern Ireland Executive
to engage with local authorities that could be interested in signing
up to Community Covenants.
Debate on the Armed Forces Covenant
96. A number of witnesses raised the point that the
first Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant had not been
debated on the floor of the House.
Peter Poole of Combat Stress in particular said that such a debate
should be held, and he had some misgivings about the fact it had
not been already.
- There has not yet been a debate in the House
on the first Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant. This
may be an oversight, but we look forward to the Annual Report
on the Armed Forces Covenant being debated in the House at an
early opportunity and, thereafter, on an annual basis.
128 Qq 186-7 Back
Ev 111 Back
Ev 136 Back
Ev 136 Back
Qq 464-6 Back
War risk being cover during deployment. Back
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