Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Armed Forces Champion for Bristol City Council.
This Saturday is Armed Forces Day where we take the opportunity to recognise the contribution those in our armed forces communities make to our city and country. This year in particular, our armed forces have played a vital role in many aspects of the national response to Covid-19 – from distributing PPE, supporting testing and vaccinations, and working alongside countless community organisations supporting residents in need.
Since taking on the role of Armed Forces Champion in the council earlier this year, I have enjoyed learning more about the needs and experiences of our armed forces communities, and look forward to meeting those organisations in person as restrictions lift.
Bristol is home to a number of reserve units across the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. According to data published in 2017, over 16,000 veterans live in the Bristol area, and as the recent census asked the question about serving in the armed forces for the first time, we look forward to getting the results of that so that we have the most up to date information about our veteran population in the city.
All local authorities in the country are signatories to the Armed Forces Covenant, which is a commitment to ensure that members of armed forces communities receive the support they need in recognition of their dedication and sacrifice. However, we also want to make sure that members of the armed forces and veterans, and their families, are integrated into local life in the city and that we promote understanding of the issues affecting the armed forces communities in Bristol. A multi-disciplinary group of Council officers meet, alongside forces representatives, and agencies such as the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, and the DWP to ensure that our work is as joined-up as it can be, and I want to work to raise the profile of that work.
One of the aspects of this work is making sure that veterans and members of armed forces communities are supported into employment, which is why Bristol City Council, alongside 67 other businesses have signed their own covenants. At the council, we are developing a work programme specifically to support employees who are veterans and reservists to ensure their needs are accommodated and they are supported to thrive in their careers at the council.
We know, however, that there is more work to do across a range of city services to help those who serve – or have served – in the armed forces to thrive. Access to mental health support continues to be a crucial issue. Research from Kings Centre for Military Health Research indicates that rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2014-16 had grown to 6% – higher than the population average of 4%. Information on specific support through the NHS for serving personnel and veterans is available here.
Labour’s Shadow Defence Team have set up a network of Armed Forces Champions to ensure that the voice of armed forces communities are represented in national policy. We are campaigning to make sure the Armed Forces Covenant is fully enshrined in law, to promote a new duty of care from the Ministry of Defence to give veterans better legal and mental health support, and to ensure that Commonwealth veterans have visa fees scrapped. They are also keen to hear from veterans about their experiences directly – if you are an armed services veteran you can complete their survey here.
Meanwhile it was my pleasure to attend the flag-raising for Armed Forces Week on Monday alongside the Lord Mayor and representatives of our service units in Bristol, and where we were able to #SaluteOurForces. On Saturday, I encourage you to join in.