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Number of UK veterans

The MOD estimated that in 2021 there are 2.07 million UK armed forces veterans residing in Great Britain. This number is predicted to fall to 1.64 million by 2028.

Although the overall number of veterans is expected to decrease, the percentage of working-age veterans is projected to increase from 37% in 2016 to 44% by 2028.

The Armed Forces Covenant

The Armed Forces Covenant is a statement of the moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and the armed forces in return for the sacrifices they make. Its core principles were enshrined in the Armed Forces Act 2011. The Act places a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State for Defence to provide an annual report to Parliament. The report must show regard for the unique obligations and sacrifices made by the armed forces; a desire to remove disadvantages experienced by current and former members; and that special provisions may be justified to support them.

The Armed Forces Bill 2021-22, which is before Parliament, will require specified public bodies to have due regard to these principles in the areas of housing, education and healthcare.

The 2018 Veterans Strategy

The Government published a new Veterans Strategy in November 2018. The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described it as a “statement of intent” for UK and devolved Governments with set goals to be achieved by 2028.

Following consultation, the UK Government introduced a Holistic Transition Policy. This aims to extend support for those transitioning from service to civilian life beyond employment, to include support from the Career Transition Partnership. The Partnership focuses on “life-skills material to help better prepare Service Personnel and their families for civilian life”.

An Office for Veterans’ Affairs was established in July 2019. It sits in the Cabinet Office with leadership shared between the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans.

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. The Act establishes a statutory presumption against prosecution of personnel for alleged offences committed on overseas military operations more than five years ago, and which have been the subject of a previous investigation.

Support services for veterans

Housing for veterans

Veterans may attract additional preference in certain circumstances when applying for council housing.  The MOD has a referral scheme to support recent 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…who has been homeless” 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.

Healthcare for veterans

The provision of veterans’ healthcare is primarily the responsibility of the NHS. The Armed Forces Covenant states that 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.

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 (with the exception of 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 groups 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 mygov.scot website: Armed forces veterans support.


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