Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Armed Forces Community Covenant

With the large number of Armer Forces personnel in the area, I've been giving some thought to what the Military Covenant means. For those of you who, like me, until a few days ago were a bit hazy on its contents, the Covenant (which has existed since 2000) states that the Government
 'expects the Armed Forces to carry out their duties in defence of the state to the best of their abilities, up to and including the possibility of death in action. In return, the Armed Forces expect that they and their immediate dependants will be cared for both during and after service. The nation should respect, honour and endorse the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces on its behalf. This must be a two way relationship and, just as the Armed Forces expect the nation to recognize their 'right to be different', so they must respect the values of the society they represent and defend.'

The Prime Minister recently asked for a report showing how the Military Covenant can be rebuilt and strengthened. The Task Force commissioned to do the job reported in September 2010 with, among other things, a recommendation that an Armed Forces Community Covenant be established. This will enable 'central and local government, charities and society more widely to join together to support the 'Armed Forces Family' - serving personnel, veterans, reservists and their families.

What might the Community Covenant mean? The report recognises that this will have to be worked out differently in every area but some examples of good practice are given - closer links between military services and civilian services and charities, Welfare Pathway Schemes which help families access support from MOD, Local Authority, statutory providers and the voluntary sector from 'one stop' access points.  Some areas already have Armed Forces Community Champions. Scarborough has a 'Heroes Welcome' scheme which allows military personnel discount from local businesses. Help with legal aid, financial management, insurance and finding local employment could also be provided, as could discounted driving lessons and car hire in rural areas and schemes that provide special help for children moving schools. The report gives examples of schemes that benefit both the local community and the military personnel such as provision of extra dental care,  schemes for early learning and greater support for local cultural activites.

Some of the military chaplains and the local clergy are planning a study day together in February to look at what it is possible for the churches and the civilian clergy to get involved with. The report describes Firm Base Programmes where there are Army Super Garrisons. Catterick is one such garrison (others are at Aldershot and Tidworth) seeking to provide geater stability for Armed Forces personnel so that families will not have to move around so much and soldiers will have a better sense of identity with the community to which they return between tours of duty. We need to do some creative thinking around what response we can make to this new approach to working in partnership with our military personnel. All part of the Big Society agenda, I think, and, as much as some scepticism about political motivation might be justified, we would be ill advised to ignore the opportunities to create better social cohesion and to recognise the special place and needs of those who serve their country and their dependants.
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