Tom Tugendhat is MP for Tonbridge and Malling and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Tomorrow’s Armed Forces Day celebrations are a time for the country to thank the men and women who serve now, and the estimated 2.4 million British veterans who have served and sacrificed in the past.
It is a time to honour their service, but it is also a time to reflect about how we as a country can better serve their needs in the future.
However well our Armed Forces protect the physical and mental health of those who serve, we know that the very act of service can take a heavy toll.
According to research from the King’s Centre Military Health Research, PTSD is nearly twice as common in ex-service personnel as in the general public. Among those deployed in a combat role it is more than four times as high.
Too many homeless veterans are still sleeping rough on the streets of British cities and towns. Nearly 2,000 veterans live in supported housing, which is largely funded by charities and competitive grant funding, and as many as 4,000 of our service men and women are in urgent housing need.
Veterans who find themselves homeless often have complex needs. They need specialist provision with higher levels of staffing and greater expertise. Such services do exist – and they transform lives – but the financial future of these services remains uncertain.
As it stands there is currently almost no central direct government funding ringfenced for supported housing for British military veterans. It is the only sector of supported housing where the majority of funding comes from charities.
But many charities have withdrawn support. The main providers of specialist housing for veterans estimate up to 35 percent of charitable funding has been lost in the last decade.
That means that some vital facilities have either closed or scaled back. Riverside Housing’s specialist veterans’ support service, the Beacon, just a short distance from the world’s largest British army garrison in Catterick, has helped to support and provide accommodation for nearly 350 veterans affected by homelessness over the course of ten years.
However, the Beacon had to cease offering specialist support services to veterans in October last year, including support for PTSD, substance abuse, and physical disability. Its statutory funding had dwindled from £242,072 in 2012/13 to just £50,750 by 2020/21. That means it can no longer offer a place to live for veterans with complex needs.
What these services are crying out for is a sustainable funding stream that allows them to plan effectively and meet the needs of our veterans.
The four leading providers of supported housing for veterans, Riverside, Launchpad, Alabaré, and Stoll, estimate less than £3 million a year would secure the future of the 966 units that already exist, and provide 200 more to meet demand.
This is not just a way of meeting our responsibility as a society to those who risked their lives in our service. It is an investment in positive outcomes. Properly funded specialist supported housing gives veterans the stability they need to rebuild their lives.
It reduces costs to the NHS and other support services, by leading to fewer visits to A&E, reduced demand for GP and community mental health services, and fewer complications caused by drug and alcohol problems.
It allows veterans to get their finances in order, and to focus on living productive, fulfilling lives. It breaks the spiral that leads to rough sleeping, when positive outcomes become harder, and more expensive, to deliver.
It also means we get full value from other important investments. For example, veterans can now receive specialist mental health care as part of a new NHS service called Operation Courage.
Service men and women are trained to soldier on independently. It is well recognised that veterans take longer on average than others before asking for help and a lot of the issues that occur as a result of service can take several years to present themselves.
Because of this independence veterans are very reluctant to ask for the support they need in mainstream homeless services and homeless hostels are not suitable especially for those with complex needs.
Veterans need to be around and supported by people who understand the experiences they have gone through.
The current administration should be proud of its record in helping British military veterans. In his first week in office after becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson created the UK’s first ever Office for Veterans Affairs (OVA).
The OVA’s Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan released earlier this year contained pledges to ensure consistent data on veterans’ homelessness and to end veterans’ rough sleeping by 2024.
In this action plan by the end of this year the Department for Levelling Up has pledged to conduct research to understand the supply of supported housing, including that which meets the needs of the veteran community, and to provide an understanding of any needs gap.
As part of this review, I strongly urge DLUHC and the Treasury to recommend that central Government provides long-term, ringfenced statutory funding to cover all the supported housing needs of our military veterans, including those with the most complex needs.
The Government of the United Kingdom greatly values the contribution of all our veterans.
My worry is that these vital services have been left without statutory funding not because of a lack of empathy, or even political will, but because the funding situation is complex and therefore the issue has fallen through the cracks.
But when the issue falls through the cracks, so do the veterans; and that simply cannot stand.
We have the best servicemen and women in the world. They have served and supported us. It is our duty to support them when they need it.
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