Counting Them In

Next year’s Census will be the first to ask a specific question on service in the Armed Forces.

This follows the success of the Count Them In campaign led by the Royal British Legion which I was proud to support.

In Great Britain it is estimated that there are around 2.4 million veterans who form part of a wider community of former members of the Armed Forces, including their spouses, partners, dependent children, widows and widowers.

This information will help us gain a far greater understanding of the location, profile and needs of our veterans. It is one thing to talk about supporting our nation’s service personnel. Actions such as this will enable public bodies, local authorities and charities to make it happen.

Our Armed Forces have played a crucial part in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their running of 147 mobile testing units enables hundreds of key workers and their households to be tested every day, with results within 48 hours.

The 7 Rifles Reservist soldiers are based at Gatwick Airport and are operating testing units across West Sussex. Our community is grateful for their hard work in ensuring that vital services can continue at this time.

To mark Armed Forces Day last month, the Housing Minister announced new measures to ensure access to social housing is enhanced for members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

The Government has additionally outlined how local authorities should ensure service personnel and veterans who need support with their mental health, due to conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, are given priority for social housing.

This guidance is in recognition of the fact that service personnel are expected to live and work all around the country.

Further support in this regard is from the Government’s plan for an Armed Forces Railcard, which is due to come into effect later in the year. This will extend discounted train travel to the more than 830,000 veterans not covered by existing discounts.

The railcard will also allow family members to travel with veterans, potentially saving military families hundreds of pounds each year.

As a nation it is also right for us to consider how we pay a public tribute to our veterans. In Parliament I am supporting the Desecration of War Memorials Bill. In addition to the specific designation of an offence relating to unlawful damage to a war memorial, this Bill also enables the judiciary to use greater discretion over punishments.

Government is clear about its ambition to make the UK the best country anywhere to be a military veteran and in this endeavour they have my full support.

Henry Smith MP

Picture: Henry Smith MP meeting members of the Armed Forces community and Royal British Legion staff in June 2016.