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Number of UK veterans

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has estimated there are 2.0 million UK armed forces veterans residing in Great Britain in 2022. This number is predicted to fall to 1.6 million by 2028.

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

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, including rehabilitation and mental health support; the reduction in size of the armed forces and accompanying need to support personnel transitioning to civilian life; and the centenary and significant anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars respectively served as a reminder of the needs of the elderly cohort of veterans.

The Armed Forces Covenant

The publication of the Armed Forces Covenant 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, and special consideration is appropriate in some cases, particularly for those who have been injured or bereaved.

These core principles were enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act 2011. The Armed Forces Act 2021 introduced a new requirement for some public bodies, including the NHS and local authorities, to pay due regard to the principles of the Covenant when carrying out specific public functions in the areas of housing, healthcare and education. Annual reports of Covenant discuss progress made on commitments and pledges made towards current and former service personnel and their families.

The 2018 Veterans’ Strategy and 2022 update

In 2018 the Government published a Veterans Strategy, which the then Defence for UK and devolved Governments with set goals to be achieved by 2028.

In January 2022 a new Veterans’ Strategy action plan for 2022-24 was published. This sets a goal of making “the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran by 2028”. It makes over 60 commitments and provides a timeframe and lead department responsibility for delivery. A further refresh will be published in 2024.

Office for Veterans’ Affairs

An Office for Veterans’ Affairs was established in the Cabinet Office in 2019, with responsibilities shared between Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office Ministers.

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.

Healthcare for veterans

The provision of veterans’ healthcare is primarily the responsibility of the NHS. The Armed Forces Covenant states 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 went on to state that NHS England will 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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