1.The Armed Forces Covenant was first published by the then coalition Government in May 2011. At that time it was described by Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, the then Secretary of State for Defence as:
The expression of the moral obligation the Government and the Nation owe to those who serve or have served in our Armed Forces and to their families.
2.The Covenant defined the extent of the Armed Forces community and set out fifteen thematic areas within which support to that community should be provided (including terms and conditions of service (TACOS), healthcare, education, housing, benefits/tax, family life and transition). It further sought to identify the organisations and institutions which would be required to provide that support, and to articulate the obligations which underpin the Covenant. Guidance was published alongside the Covenant to set out initial practical measures, identified by the Government, to aid its implementation.
3.The Armed Forces Act 2011 obliges the Secretary of State to lay an Annual Report before Parliament on the implementation of the Covenant. An interim Annual Report was published in December 2011. The first Covenant Annual Report was published in 2012. The 2017 Annual Report, published in December 2017, is the sixth full report in the series.
4.The 2011 Act also describes the two central principles of the Covenant to which the Secretary of State is required to have particular regard in the preparation of the Annual Report:
5.It is striking that in his Foreword to the 2017 Annual Report, Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Defence, highlights that in the post Iraq and Afghanistan era UK Armed Forces are engaged in more operations than ever before and “the legacy of past conflicts continues to be felt by our people”. Despite this level of operations, he goes on to warn:
… the work of the Armed Forces is less prominent in the minds of the public, which is why for me, the principles of the Covenant are more relevant today than they have ever been.
6.The 2017 Annual Report, like previous editions, contains a section of unedited observations from the External Members of the Covenant Reference Group (CRG). The CRG brings together representatives of Government Departments and external organisations including the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), the Royal British Legion and the single Service Families Federations.
7.We held two oral evidence sessions. The first was with the single Service Families Federations and Service charities, and examined the concerns they expressed in their observations in the Annual Report. The final session was with the Minister with responsibility for the Armed Forces Covenant, Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, and Ms Helen Helliwell, Head of Service Personnel Support at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). We received a comprehensive submission from the MoD answering a wide range of questions following the Ministerial evidence session. We are grateful to all our witnesses for the constructive and candid manner in which they assisted our inquiry.
8.The Covenant covers a wide range of matters and responsibility for implementation and delivery falls across Government Departments, the devolved administrations, local authorities and other bodies such as charities. Our report does not seek to cover all the areas of concern expressed about the Covenant, but focuses on the restructuring of the Covenant governance structures, funding for the Covenant and then some specific areas of concern on accommodation, Armed Forces pay, healthcare, education, and the wider Covenant in relation to business and local communities.
6 Ministry of Defence, , 5 December 2012
12 Ministry of Defence () Annex A sets out the Terms of Reference and membership of the Covenant Reference Group.
13 Ministry of Defence ()
Published: 30 June 2018