Saturday, 26 July 2008

Public Accounts Committee reports on "Leaving the Services"

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has recently published its assessment of how the MoD prepares personnel for their discharge from the Services.
As the majority of service personnel leave the Armed Forces at least 25 years before a normal civilian retirement age of 65, many will need or wish to have a second career. The MoD believes that effective support for personnel at the end of their career aids retention and is a reward for long service.
The MoD provides a "resettlement" programme which helps and supports personnel in the transition from military to civilian life. .

The Committee's findings and recommendations:
  • Early Service Leavers are most vulnerable to social and economic exclusion. Whilst the MoD provides comprehensive resettlement support to those with long service histories (probably as a reward for service and as an aid to retention), it needs to do more to help those leaving the service early.
  • Training improvements needed for first-line resettlement staff. Although the MoD has planned for improvements, these have not yet been implemented. First-line support is crucial for assisting Early Service Leavers.
  • The resettlement process needs to be streamlined further. The MoD has already reduced the amount of paperwork and bureacracy associated with resettlement but this can be taken further particularly with regards those who need the most administrative support (i.e. those with lower educational attainment).
  • Time must be set aside for resettlement. Commanding Officers should make it easier for Service Leavers to attend the resettlement programme and should give it higher priority to ensure the necessary time is available for all Service Leavers.
  • The Career Transition Partnership is not so popular with junior ranks. Although the Career Transition Partnership has been generally successful, attendance and corresponding satisfaction levels are lower amongst junior ranks. The MoD should find out why this is.
  • Unemployment is significantly higher among Early Service Leavers. The MoD should monitor how many remain out of work six months after discharge, determine why this is the case and implement appropropriate changes to its support programmes.
  • Local authorities are not always meeting their responsibilities with regards to the housing of Service leavers and some Service Leavers have found it difficult to get assistance with housing. Part of the problem relates to the lack of a “local connection” to the area where the Service Leaver had served but, in other cases, local authorities were simply reluctant to assist Service Leavers without them being evicted from Service housing. Such authorities must be identified and instructed not to do this.
  • The support provided to those looking to buy their own homes can be extended even further. The MoD provides good support to serving personnel looking to buy their own home, and to single Service Leavers who need accommodation on discharge, but the take up of these services is low. The Department should refer more of its single Service Leavers to the services provided by the Single Persons Accommodation Centre for the Ex-Services (SPACES), especially those whom it has identified as most vulnerable to social exclusion. The Department should do more to encourage home ownership earlier in the careers of serving personnel or prior to discharge.
  • The improved mental health support provided to veterans needs to be publicised more. The MoD should do more to raise awareness of the new provision and to remind veterans of the support available. It should also strengthen its screening for potential risk of mental health problems when Service Leavers have their final medical and should use this opportunity to alert Service Leavers to the support available to them following discharge.

91% of those entitled to the resettlement package (which is the majority of leavers) are very satisfied with the support provided. Six months after discharge only 5% of Service Leavers looking for work were still unemployed. Those not entitled to the full resettlement package, i.e. Early Leavers, are the ones more likely to suffer from unemployment and to find it more difficult to get suitable accommodation.

On balance it sounds as if the MoD is providing a good resettlement package for the majority of service personnel about to make the transition to civilian life, but ..........

Campaign groups like Parcels43 are saying that significant numbers of soldiers are finding it increasingly difficult to find appropriate accommodation on leaving the Forces.

A recent BBC TV documentary "Ex Forces and Homeless" found that on any given night in London alone there are thought to be over a thousand homeless veterans; in some parts of the country they number 12% of the homeless population. It also found that problems were mainly being experienced by those with long service histories.

Charities dealing with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, like Combat Stress, are not reporting a diminuation in the number veterans seeking their help, rather the reverse.

The Committee and the MoD seem to believe that the MoD's and Government's responsibility for ex-Forces personnel only lasts for six months after discharge. The above research has found that PTSD, homeless and unemployment most often kicks in several years after leaving the Services.
The MoD must take a longer, more responsible view. It must monitor key indicators (health, work, accommodation, family status) at 5, 10 and 15 years after discharge and its resettlement programme must provide help and support to veterans developing psychological problems several years after leaving the Services.

Link> AV: Helping servicemen through their own front door
Link> AV: Ex-Forces and Homeless