A new study has revealed that ex-Service personnel with physical and mental health problems are struggling to navigate a “baffling” benefits system and should not incur sanctions…

The research, led by the University of Salford and supported by the University of York, involved 120 interviews with ex-Service personnel and found the need for greater understanding of veterans’ complex needs and suggests that sanctions are not the answer.

Participants in the study were found to have insecure employment, with several struggling with debts and rent arrears, and some resorting to foodbanks or “going through the bins”. Others live with embarrassment, shame and resentment at a system they call unfair and bewildering.

Universal Credit (UC) appeared to have introduced a further layer of complexity and received damning criticism from respondents leaving the Armed Forces and their families.

The report, funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), titled Sanctions, support and Service leavers: Social security benefits and transitions from military to civilian life, was launched at an event in the House of Lords. This is the first major study investigating the experiences of ex-Service personnel navigating the benefits system.

The research makes 12 recommendations, which include the need for:

  • the system to ensure that benefit sanctions are not applied to those Veterans experiencing mental and physical health impairments resulting from Service in the Armed Forces.
  • an urgent review of the assessment process applied to those claiming working-age incapacity benefits, to ensure assessors are qualified to assess the health needs of people leaving the Armed Forces.
  • for the DWP to ensure that Armed Forces background is consistently recorded by Work Coaches to ensure appropriate tracking of the needs of individual veterans and their progress through the system.
  • Each Jobcentre to have one designated individual who takes a lead in supporting the ex-Service community.
  • Guidance on the UK social security system to be included as part of the transitional support for those leaving the Armed Forces.

More profoundly negative impacts on individuals and their families came from the threat of benefit sanctions for non-compliance with conditions imposed by the Jobcentre Plus. Some, rather than being supported by the State were reliant on military charities, and third-party organisations like housing associations.

Ray Lock, Chief Executive, FiMT, said: “The evidence clearly shows the need for identification and understanding of the complex needs of the minority ex-Service community in need of welfare support. The majority of personnel make a successful transition to civilian life; for the few who encounter difficulty, we need to ensure consistent signposting to relevant support services and a benefits system that is easier to navigate.”

Professor Lisa Scullion, Associate Director of the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit at University of Salford, who is leading the project, said: “Allowances are made to veterans who claim benefits as part of the Covenant, but until now very little has been known about their experiences within the system. We found people who desperately did not want to claim benefits, but who found the system baffling and had been given little preparation for dealing with it.

“It was evident that some of our participants struggled with adjusting to the precarious labour market that we have today. But also, to then have to confront some of the conditions attached to benefit receipt is a shock for people. Yes, there is significant good practice within the DWP and notably among their Armed Forces Champions, but the variation across geographical areas and even within Jobcentres is worrying.”