The Government has published the tri-Service Armed Forces Covenant for the first time today and announced that, with an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill, its principles will be enshrined in law.
The covenant is a statement of the moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and the Armed Forces.
The core principles are that members of the Armed Forces Community do not suffer disadvantages as a result of their service and that they receive special treatment where appropriate.
These principles, put into law through an amended Armed Forces Bill, will set the tone for future government policy dedicated to improving support for the Armed Forces Community.
See Related Links for more details of the Armed Forces Covenant.
Announcing the publication of the Armed Forces Covenant to Parliament today, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:
The Government has no higher duty than the defence of the realm. The ties between the nation, its Government and its Armed Forces are not the product of rules and regulations but are much deeper than that.
The Armed Forces Covenant does not need to be a long and detailed charter. It should be a simple and timeless statement of the moral obligation that we owe. We are therefore publishing today a new version of the covenant, written for the first time on a tri-Service basis.
The Armed Forces Bill will also require the Defence Secretary to report to Parliament every year on the progress of improvements to the covenant in key areas including healthcare, housing and education.
The Defence Secretary will also widely consult key stakeholders in writing the report, which will be subject to independent scrutiny by Parliament as well as members of the External Reference Group, which includes Service charities.
By writing these principles in law the existence of the covenant is being recognised in statute for the first time, as promised by Prime Minister David Cameron last year.
These measures will also provide a regular review of the policies that will make greater support to our Armed Forces a reality and ensure that Parliament can scrutinise this review through the annual report, and that the report itself is widely informed, consultative and transparent.
The Defence Secretary continued:
We believe that a sensible way forward, that will give the right kind of legal basis to the Armed Forces Covenant for the first time in our history, is to enshrine the principles in law, provide a regular review of the policies that will make them a reality, ensure that Parliament has a chance to scrutinise this review through the annual report, and that the report itself is widely informed, consultative and transparent.
Our understanding of the covenant will change over time, as will the way in which Government and society meet it. The framework we have set out today provides the flexibility we need so that not only the Government but all of society can fully pay the enormous debt they owe our Armed Forces, their families and our veterans.
Dr Fox also outlined to Parliament today some of the measures to rebuild the covenant taken since the Coalition Government took office. These are:
• doubling the Operational Allowance;
• including Service children within the Pupil Premium;
• introducing scholarships for the children of bereaved Service families.
And we have taken action to improve mental healthcare.
Dr Fox also announced today additional measures that will tackle some of the problems experienced by serving personnel, their families and veterans. These are the setting up of:
• a new Community Covenant Grant scheme - with funding of £30m over the next four years to support action by local communities to support our Armed Forces and veterans;
• a new fund of £3m per year, over and above the Pupil Premium arrangements, to support state schools catering for significant numbers of Service children;
• a Veterans Card that will allow access to discounts and privileges;
• a guarantee that veterans suffering serious genital injuries will have access to three cycles of IVF, wherever they live;
• an increase in the rate of Council Tax Relief for military personnel serving on operations overseas from 25 to 50 per cent.
Dr Fox also said that, in addition, between now and the Summer Recess, he expects there to be further announcements, which again underline that this is a priority across the whole of Government, and not just for Defence. These include:
• ministers chairing a meeting today with key stakeholders to discuss and agree ways to improve access to housing for our Service people;
• the Health and Defence Secretaries looking at how to take forward a report on improving further the supply of prosthetics for injured personnel;
• considering how to ensure the Guaranteed Income Payments made under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme are not required to be used to pay for social care provided by the public sector.
Dr Fox concluded:
The obligation we owe to our servicemen and women, set against the commitment and sacrifice which they make, is enormous. In the current financial climate we are not able to do as much to honour that obligation, nor to do it as quickly, as we would like. But we can make clear the road on which are embarked.
Our understanding of the covenant will change over time, as will the way in which Government and society meet it. The framework we have set out today provides the flexibility we need to do this so that not only the Government but all of society can fully pay the enormous debt they owe to the Armed Forces of this country, their families and our veterans.