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What is 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. It was published in May 2011 and its core principles were enshrined in law, for the first time, in the Armed Forces Act 2011.

The Government is required by the Act to produce an annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant. In preparing that report, the Defence Secretary must have particular regard to:

(a) the unique obligations of, and sacrifices made by, the armed forces;

(b) the principle that it is desirable to remove disadvantages arising for service people from membership, or former membership, of the armed forces; and

(c) the principle that special provision for service people may be justified by the effects on such people of membership, or former membership, of the armed forces.

Implementing measures introduced under the Covenant’s umbrella may be the responsibility of central government, the devolved governments or local authorities.

New requirement for public bodies to have “due regard” to the Covenant

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.

During the passage of the Armed Forces Act 2021 the Government resisted calls by opposition parties and military charities to expand this requirement to every area of public policy and to apply it to national government and devolved administrations. Guidance to public bodies will be laid before the House and will be subject to approval in both Houses.

The Government will review the operation of the new duty across the UK in its 2023 Covenant annual report and an interim update in the 2022 Covenant annual report. 

Opposition parties and charities say the Bill “does not go far enough”

During the passage of the Bill, opposition parties and several military charities argued the requirement to have due regard to the Covenant should be expanded to other areas of public policy and to also apply to national and devolved governments.

This paper explains what the Covenant is and the changes made by the Armed Forces Act 2021. It lays out the evolution of the Covenant from an unwritten commitment to a published document. It explains what the Covenant is and the obligations that flow from it. The paper then discusses the new requirements set out in the Armed Forces Act 2021 and the debate about the Covenant during the Bill’s passage through Parliament. The text of the Covenant can be found in the appendix.

 


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