A major new report into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant has identified ways in which local authorities, and other public bodies, can reduce disadvantage for the Armed Forces Community. This timely report follows the introduction of a new statutory Covenant Duty which came into force on 22nd November, and recommends that neighbouring councils work in collaboration and improve awareness-raising and training for frontline staff. The researchers have provided a toolkit for councils to assess and improve their delivery of the Covenant.
The report, A Decade of the Covenant: A review of delivery and impact of ten years of the Armed Forces Covenant, from Shared Intelligence and commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust, and supported by Meri Mayhew Consulting with advisory support from RAND Europe, examined the impact of the Covenant in reducing disadvantage for the Armed Forces Community. It found that, whilst significant progress has been made towards the delivery of the Covenant since 2016, there are areas where disadvantage remains. For the serving community, this included impact on children’s education, access to healthcare and spousal employment; for those leaving the military, a lack of awareness by front line staff of the potential challenges they face when accessing housing and employment after service remains; and veterans reportedly face disadvantage when accessing housing and healthcare.
The research shows that, while more councils have actioned key recommendations made in previous reports, there has been relatively slow progress on Covenant action plans, and fewer councils are able to resource a dedicated Covenant officer. The report provides a practical toolkit which local authorities can use to improve their delivery of the Covenant, and ensure they reduce disadvantage faced by the Armed Forces Community.
The researchers particularly encouraged neighbouring councils to collaborate to deliver on the requirements of the Covenant Duty and to make the best use of resources and promote consistency. They also called for more consistent and improved data collection, as a lack of data significantly hampered their efforts to understand the impact of the Covenant.
The report also comes as data is published from the Census, which asked for the first time whether respondents had served in the Armed Forces. The researchers recommend councils use this as an opportunity to review evidence on their local Armed Forces Community.
Tom McBarnet, Chief Executive (Acting) of Forces in Mind Trust, said “The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or have served in the UK Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly, incurring no disadvantage as a result of their service. It is up to all of us to deliver on that promise, and particularly those in national, regional and local government.
“This report shows that recognition of and adherence to the Covenant is patchy across the UK. We applaud the efforts of the many who are working to reduce disadvantage for the Armed Forces Community – and there are some fantastic examples of this. But the nation’s obligation to its Armed Forces is one which should not be taken lightly or as an exercise in ‘box-ticking’, and this report highlights where positive improvements can and should be made. With our toolkit and the advice and information provided in this report, all local authorities and public bodies, as well as government departments, have the necessary guidance on how to make these improvements.”
Tony Blake, Programme Director at Shared Intelligence, said “We are delighted to have been commissioned to deliver this work. In carrying out the research, we were struck by the commitment and creativity of many people in public services and charities in turning Covenant pledges into reality. This is increasingly stretching with constrained resources. We hope the report’s recommendations and updated toolkit will be a helpful contribution to focusing and sustaining the reduction of disadvantage experienced by members of the Armed Forces Community.”
Helen Helliwell, Director of Armed Forces People Policy at the Ministry of Defence, said: “I welcome this latest report, which adds deeply to our knowledge of how the Covenant is being delivered across the whole of the UK. Since the first of these reports was published, many councils have embraced the recommended methods of having both a dedicated councillor champion and lead officer, to work together to deliver the spirit and letter of the Covenant. I hope now that this approach is more widely adopted in councils across the UK, and look forward to continuing to work together to improve the lives of our Armed Forces Community.”