*Photo taken in November 2019.
Mental health matters. This is one of the most important lessons that I have learnt in life. When the going gets tough, it is imperative that we reach out for help and do not suffer alone. I have spoken and written many times about the fantastic sense of community which Wolverhampton has. Our city is wonderfully diverse, and we have a lot to learn from each other. The situation regarding COVID-19 has been undoubtedly challenging for all of us. Yet, I have been so heartened to see our city come together as one community to protect the elderly and most vulnerable.
There is one subsection of our community with which I have a personal attachment. It is, of course, the veterans community. I believe that there are around 2,000 veterans in Wolverhampton. Each of us have our own story to tell, and many of us have been blessed by the unconditional love and support of our loved ones. Those that leave the Armed Forces are known as ‘service leavers’, and much is made of the transition into civilian life after years of a very regimented lifestyle. For instance, the Officers' Association has found that, despite the skills and experiences of ex-services personnel, 1 in 5 veterans described the process of finding the right job as being ‘very difficult.’ More recent research discovered that over a third of service leavers aged fifty and over experience ageism, anti-military bias, or both, when they are looking for civilian work. In some cases, these struggles can lead to other issues such as poor mental health, homelessness, and even substance misuse. I know from my own experience how damaging this can be for both the individual and their family. I am determined to build a better future for new generations of service leavers.
I am also committed to providing veterans with a platform through which they can tell their story. In 2019, for example, it was my privilege to host the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in our city for Remembrance Sunday. He took the time to speak with our veterans - including Fred Bunce, who served in the Korean War and has since proudly served as a leader of the local branch of the Royal British Legion. We owe our Armed Forces personnel, veterans, and their families an enormous debt of gratitude for their selfless actions which have helped to keep our country safe.
It is only right that we ensure that those who have served our country are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing key public services, such as healthcare, education, and housing. That is why I support the Armed Forces Bill - a new piece of legislation which will enshrine into law the Armed Forces Covenant. This is our commitment, as a nation, to ensure that those who have and continue to serve, as well as their families, suffer no disadvantage and are treated with fairness in the communities, economy, and society that they have served. I am proud to have been appointed to serve on the Select Committee which has been convened to review this landmark Bill. The measures which we are putting forward through the Bill will increase awareness among public bodies of the unique nature of military service by placing a duty to consider the unique obligations of and sacrifices made by the Armed Forces community. It will also ensure that personnel have a clear, fair, and effective route to justice wherever they are operating, create an independent body to oversee complaints, and make the complaints system much more efficient.
Moreover, the Armed Forces Bill will ensure that the Armed Forces community has access to improved public services wherever they live in the UK. In turn, this will help us to build on the progress that we have already made through the Office for Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Gateway - helping veterans into work through our guaranteed interview scheme, supporting service families with childcare, introducing the veterans railcard which has made it easier to get about, and providing more choice of accommodation for personnel. I have created a section on my website which signposts support for veterans. I hope that this will be a helpful resource. I will continue to do all I can to champion these issues and see the Bill become law.