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Number of UK veterans

On Census Day (21 March 2021), 1.85 million people in England and Wales reported that they had previously served in the UK armed forces. This represents 3.8% (almost 1 in 25) of the total population aged 16 or over.

Results from the Scottish census, which was delayed until 2022, are yet to be published.

The census in Northern Ireland did not ask about veteran status, but future estimates will be produced by linking data with the Ministry of Defence’s Service Leavers Database.

Evolution of policy

The specific needs of veterans have come under ever-greater focus in recent years. This has been driven in part by the post-service experiences of those who served in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Armed Forces Covenant, adopted in 2011, articulated the principles of no disadvantage and special consideration; that no current or former member of the armed forces, or their families, should be at a disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services.

In 2018 the Government published a Veterans’ Strategy, followed by a new action plan for 2022-24 in January 2022. A refresh of the strategy is due in 2024.

In March 2023 the Government launched a review into welfare provision for veterans.

The Government has created an Office for Veterans’ Affairs in the Cabinet Office to better coordinate policies across Government, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and with local authorities.

The annual Armed Forces Covenant reports include information on policies directed towards veterans and progress made year-on-year. In 2021 the title of these reports incorporated veterans for the first time. Ministers said this was to reflect the report as a joint effort between the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office.

Housing for veterans

Veterans may attract additional preference in certain circumstances when applying for council housing. The MOD has a referral scheme to support veterans in accessing housing association properties.

Ex-service personnel are at an increased risk of experiencing street homelessness. In England, “vulnerable former members of the armed forces” and in Wales “a person who has served in the regular armed forces of the Crown who has been homeless since leaving those forces” are identified as priority need categories for assistance with housing. In Scotland there is a duty to find permanent accommodation for all unintentionally homeless applicants.

A new cross-government strategy for England, Ending rough sleeping for good, was published in September 2022. Commitment 4.4 says “No-one who has served in the UK Armed Forces should face the need to sleep rough.”

Healthcare for veterans

The provision of veterans’ healthcare is primarily the responsibility of the NHS. The Armed Forces Covenant says veterans have distinct health needs and should receive priority treatment for service-related conditions. There is also specific support for veterans accessing mental health and prosthetics services.

In March 2021 the Government announced the Op Courage service, creating a single point to access mental health services for veterans. Also in March 2021, NHS England published Healthcare for the Armed Forces community: a forward view, which included commitments to help the transition to civilian life and improve veterans’ and their families’ mental health. The Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan: 2022-2024 said NHS England would be providing £18 million over three years for veteran health services.

Veterans’ pensions and social security

The occupational pension scheme for members of the armed forces is the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS). Separate to this are schemes to make payments to current and former service personnel and their families if there is ill health, injury or death caused by service.

For incidents before 6 April 2005, payments are made through the War Pensions Scheme. For incidents after that date, there is the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). Surviving partners and dependent children may be eligible for survivors’ benefits from the AFPS.

In the case of deaths attributable to service before 6 April 2005, compensation payments might be available from the War Pension Scheme or AFCS (for deaths attributable to service after that date).

There are no Government welfare-to-work schemes or social security benefits specifically for veterans (except for the Armed Forces Independence Payment), although there are some “easements” for veterans and their family members.

If someone is receiving a guaranteed income payment through AFCS or a War Pensions Scheme payment, they are exempt from the household benefit cap. Each Jobcentre Plus district should have also an “Armed Forces Champion” to support veterans and their families.

Additional information and support for veterans

Veterans can access help and advice via the Veterans’ Gateway, which is provided by a group of charities led by the Royal British Legion.

The Welsh Government has described the support it has available in its Armed Forces Covenant: annual report 2019 (30 September 2020).

Information for veterans in Scotland is available on the website: Armed forces veterans support.

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