The Armed Forces Covenant was introduced 11 years ago to ensure that ‘those who serve or have served in the UK Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly, incurring no disadvantage as a result of the current or former employment of a spouse, partner or parent.’
It is vital for all boroughs to understand this Covenant because the Armed Forces Act 2021 now places a statutory duty on on councils, and other bodies who are responsible for providing local service, to take due regard of this Covenant. This is particularly in the areas of healthcare, education and housing and covers organisations such as local authorities, governing bodies of schools, and NHS bodies. Statutory guidance has been published to assist these bodies comply with the duty.
The Forces in Mind Trust has just published a report, A Decade of the Covenant: A review of delivery and impact of ten years of the Armed Forces Covenant. This includes several resources for councils and government including a basket of indicators to measure the impact of the Covenant, an updated core infrastructure and toolkit, and case studies of good practice. The report identified the key drivers or risks for the disadvantage faced by the Armed Forces Community (AFC):
- Geographical relocation- affecting access to public services, partner employment and community ties
- Aspects of life in the armed forces, especially the impact on their family
- Aspects of the transition to civilian life
- Lack of understanding of their needs by councils and other public service providers
- Lack of understanding of the covenant within the AFC
The report highlights where these key areas of disadvantage can be felt:
- Healthcare e.g. access to GPs or position on waiting lists due to relocation
- Education e.g. disadvantage by geographical mobility (particularly school admissions) or the stress caused by their parents being deployed away from home
- Employment e.g.– the impact of relocation of the serving person may cause their partner to have to change jobs
- Housing e.g. the difficulty in establishing a local area connection to access social housing
Impact/consequences for London
London councils, like all other local authorities, are expected to take on three roles in relation to the Covenant:
- Convening activity across their local area - collaborating with neighbouring councils and the VCS to meet the needs of AFC
- Providing, or funding, some of the key service areas such as housing, education, social care and working with key partners e.g. health in ICS
- As employers, by ensuring that staff are aware of the Covenant and their role.
It is recognised that currently the lack of robust data can make it challenging for public bodies to plan and deliver services in a way which meets the Covenant or measure the impact of their work. However, this will become easier to measure as the most recent census collected data on this group for the first time.
The Covenant appears to have succeeded in gaining a greater commitment to removing the disadvantages that can be faced by the AFC. The new statutory duty means that all councils must show they take account of the Covenant when planning and delivering services. There is an established set of resources to assist our boroughs in the process. The updated toolkit produced by the Forces in Mind Trust sets out how councils can assess whether there are any gaps in provision and how they can focus future action. Suggestions include ensuring you understand the needs of your AFC, identifying a councillor Armed Forces Champion and how to work with partners.
However, boroughs may feel concerned about whether they, as well as the VCS, need greater levels of funding directed at meeting the needs of this community and delivering this duty. Particularly at a time when the demand for public services and assistance are growing, and it is not clear whether there are sufficient resources for councils to meet this duty.