It was back in the autumn of 2008 that the then Labour government started to clamp down on the public's wish to send parcels of goodies out to the guys fighting on the frontline.
The reason given for discouraging this very personal and direct show of support for Britain's Armed Forces was that 'unsolicited' parcels "clog up the supply chain and delay parcels from service families getting to their loved ones".
That there is an inadequate transport infrastructure supporting UK forces abroad is due to years of neglect and under-funding by government; it is not the fault of the general public.
The MoD should also bear in mind that a very large percentage (reportedly as high as 20%) of the troops out in Afghanistan do not have family to send them welfare parcels and these guys also need and deserve the morale boost that receiving a parcel from back home can bring. Many small community groups across the country send parcels (not at Christmas but throughout the year) to welfare officers who distribute them to those individuals they know would benefit most.
However, back in 2008 the government was caught in a bit of a dilemma: on the one hand it wanted to engage the public in support for the Armed Forces (cf National Recognition Study) but on the other hand it needed to dampen down any support that was proving inconvenient. The MoD came up with a solution: the Operational Welfare Fund.
Instead of sending parcels of goodies, the public would be instructed to donate money to a central fund. The Fund would be administered jointly by the MoD and SSAFA and the money raised would be used by 'commanders' to purchase items for the troops - solar-powered chargers, boxing kit, wind-up radios, etc. In this way the MoD would be able to manage and direct the flow of public goodwill and perhaps also use some of the money raised to buy equipment it would otherwise have to fund itself.
That the Operational Welfare Fund has failed to capture the public's imagination is clear: only a small number of online donations have made (less than 200) and only a relatively small amount of money has been raised (£37,050) since the Fund's launch in November 2008.
Cameron's Government should recognise that giving the people the right to express their regard, support and thanks to Britain's Armed Forces by making up a parcel and sending it out to someone serving their country abroad is perfectly consistent with the idea of the 'Big Society'.
Perhaps the MoD should consider laying on a couple of extra helicopters.
MoD: Operational Welfare Fund
SSAFA: Operational Welfare Fund
Bmycharity: SSAFA Operational Welfare Fund