The issue of how we support ex-service personnel when they are discharged from the armed forces and how we provide the most important support of all in a home is one that has been ongoing ( ‘ongoing’ a political word meaning – inertia, lack of progress and outcomes) for many years.
It used to be that Local Council’s reserved a percentage of their Social Housing stock for ex-service personnel – however this policy was ended some years ago now.
So what is the argument for making them a special case?
Firstly once someone has been discharged from the services whether married with a family, with a partner or single, then it is a fact that many are effectively homeless, which you expect would take them to the top of the council housing waiting list.
The problem of course is that this does not occur.
The legal definition of homelessness under the 1996 Housing Act and Homelessness Act 2002 that legally obliges councils to provide accommodation is that “There is no accommodation that they are entitled to occupy”; or
“They have accommodation but it is not possible for them to continue to occupy this accommodation” for example if a family is in Married Quarters or for single service personnel in barracks.
The issue is of course that the legislation, aptly called ‘main homelessness duty’ means that the council has to be satisfied that the applicant is eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and falls within a specified priority need group, the essential phrase being ‘specified priority need group’, which are,
‘Those that include households with dependent children or a pregnant woman and people who are vulnerable in some way, e.g. because of mental illness or physical disability.’
In 2002 an Order under the 1996 Act extended the priority need category to include amongst others “and those in HM Forces”
So why is it such a big issue today?
To start with why should those who have been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice have to be registered as homeless in order to receive help in getting a home? At the very least it smacks of ingratitude and gives ex-service personnel a feeling of having been discarded at the end of serving their country, a case of “thank you for what you have done now please go away.”
It reminds me of my favourite Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 poem ‘Tommy’, soldiers lament at the treatment of Armed Forces in this country when their services aren’t required. Read on, as it’s published in full at the end of this post.
The other problem is a lack of understanding in Government about the impact the lack of social and affordable housing can have on a community.
David Cameron the Prime Minister has stated that “soldiers (sic) will go to the top of the queue for a council house or mortgage when they leave the armed forces” and that he will “strain every sinew” to make it happen.
Grant Shapps the Housing Minister “will be issuing new guidance to local authorities to put retiring servicemen automatically into the highest priority category for a council house after the homeless”
DCLG say that there is “now a need to make sure members of the armed forces receive ‘proper treatment everywhere including a right to go on a waiting list’…”
All warm words, strong statements – but, and it is a big but – being on a waiting list, or at the head of a queue which isn’t going anywhere is meaningless, it is not a right to queue ex-service personnel need but keys to their own front door.
It is not a right to be on a waiting list that ex-service personnel need it is a home, none more so than the families of those who have been killed in the line of duty.
It is not a hand out that ex-servicemen need but a hand-up to help them make the transition from service to civilian life.
Local authorities have the power to amend their council homes allocation policies to prioritize groups outside of the statutory legislative requirements either to allocate directly to council homes or to nominate to homes operated by registered social landlords (Housing Associations to you and me).
Northampton has a long association and history of supporting the armed services of which it is rightly and justly proud.
Northampton Borough Council should now take the lead by taking positive action in changing the council’s allocation policy to prioritize ex-service personnel applicants in their last 6 months of service for housing.
Yes, it is positive discrimination, yes in some areas it may be seen to be unfair to those who are currently on a waiting list 8,000 or more, nevertheless I firmly believe it is right and the vast majority of people in Northampton would support such the change.
I particularly hope that such a change would receive all party support at the Guildhall, from our local MP’s and of course the many ex-services organisations within the town.
If we are serious about supporting our services then the “Special train for Atkins“ should be on a track to Northampton and the welcome signs should be clear for them to see.
I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer
The publican ’e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here”.
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I;
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins, “when the band begins to play-
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins, “when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! They’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re going large abit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll-
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall in be’ind”
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir” when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all;
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace
For it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!