An update from the Chief of Defence People

The last quarter presented significant challenges to all of us as we learned to adapt to a new way of living and working.

I have been immensely proud of the way the Defence People Team have responded to these challenges. 

We have adapted policy and services to keep those who work within Defence motivated, engaged, supported and committed at this difficult time, as well as continuing to address issues faced by Service personnel and their families both during and after their time in the Armed Forces. 

The transition from the military to civilian life presents its own set of unique challenges, none of which will have been made easier in the current climate, and I expect many Service leavers will understandably be concerned. Making sure that those who are leaving the Armed Forces are aware of, and can access the support they are entitled to, is an essential element of what we are here to deliver. 

It is crucial that we continue to work hard to recognise, understand and respond to change in order to deal with these unprecedented circumstances. And as always, our success in meeting this challenge is reliant on our people. 

Supporting successful transitions
Properly supporting the transition from military to civilian life is a core pillar of the Armed Forces Families Strategy and key to the responsibilities set out in the Strategy for Our Veterans. Our aspiration is that “Our c.15,000 Service leavers each year contribute fully to society and set the standard for future recruitment to the Armed Forces”. Taken together these strategies ensure that we continue to improve the support we provide Service personnel in preparing for successful transition. 

Providing support to Service personnel to help them find employment outside the Armed Forces is not new, and for the last 20 years this has been delivered through resettlement policy and the Career Transition Partnership. But in recent years we have been working to develop more focused and tailored transition support. We ultimately want to make sure that everyone’s transition out of the military is as seamless as possible, across all aspects of life. If we get it right for Service personnel while they are serving or preparing to leave, we can help prevent many issues faced by veterans later in their lives. 

A new transition Policy
As part of this work we introduced a new Defence Holistic Transition Policy last year, to support Service leavers and their families as they adjust to other aspects of civilian life outside of employment, such as housing, healthcare, finance and taxation, and family life.  

We know that everyone needs a different level of support as part of their transition, and so this policy has been designed to be tailored to each individual through a ‘Life Skills’ training package. This will be issued to Front Line Commands to use and includes monitoring and assessment tools to track progress against personal milestones. Through this we will be able to identify any areas where interventions may be needed before that person is discharged. 

The aim of this is to provide Service personnel and their families with information and guidance about ‘civilian’ and ‘life’ issues such as budgeting, debt management, housing, health, civilian agencies, and individual responsibilities needed to plan and prepare.

Helping those who need it most
The more relevant aspect of this policy for Service leavers is the specific support it provides for those who are most likely to face challenges as they adjust to civilian life. We know that some of our Service personnel face significant barriers when leaving their Service, particularly those who have served for less than four years. 

A new organisation, Defence Transition Services (DTS), has been established to help those facing the greatest challenges to make a successful transition. 

DTS exists to make sure individuals are connected to the support networks they need within local authorities and public services. It does this through Armed Forces Champions and other agencies, including charities. This could include assistance with life’s basic needs such as help with registering with a doctor or a dentist, or it could be much more intensive for those with complex needs. 

This new service is unique to the Armed Forces and will, for the first time, seek to soften the landing for those Service personnel who find it hardest to transition to civilian life. Although it is a national organisation, DTS operates on a regional model with a regional manager, case worker and assistant in each of our regions (Scotland and Northern Ireland, north England and north Wales, the Midlands and south Wales and south England). This should allow a better understanding of localised differences in order to find the most relevant solutions.

DTS has been operating for just under a year and has already supported over 200 Service leavers who have been identified by their chain of command as needing extra support or have self-referred to the service looking for guidance. I recently learned of one example where DTS stepped in to help a service leaver. 

Tareq’s story
Tareq left the military earlier this year with admirable ambitions for a career in the NHS and aspirations to take on a further education course. As he was due to discharge, COVID-19 related restrictions meant that he was unable to move from his Service Family Accommodation (SFA) into a Housing Association property. 

After contacting DTS, Tareq was assigned a caseworker who worked with the relevant Housing Association and with Defence Infrastructure Organisation, who were able to secure an affordable extension to his time in SFA until his new accommodation was ready to move in to. DTS also introduced him to SSAFA who were able to help with an application for financial support for white goods and furniture to help furnish his home. 

The good news is that Tareq has now secured a new role with the NHS and a place at University starting in September 2020. DTS were able to help him land on his feet and will continue to stay in touch to provide ongoing support for as long as he needs. 

If you feel that you may need extra support upon discharge then please contact your chain of command who can make a referral to DTS, or if you have already left and are finding the transition more challenging than you expected then you can self-refer. Just search for “help for Service leavers” on GOV.UK. The right help is there if you need it, so please don’t hesitate to ask. 

Easing the pressure on Service families
When we think about ways of improving the offer for those currently serving, or returning to service, we must consider not only the Service person but their family too. The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey (AFCAS) repeatedly tells us that the impact of Service on family life remains the top factor influencing the decision to leave. We have listened to these findings and are working to introduce policies that better support the families of those in the Armed Forces by providing them with the appropriate flexibility and freedom to bring up their children while they serve. 

Service families have told us that accessing good quality and affordable childcare can be a concern for many parents who are juggling the demands of their role with that of their family. We have listened, and in July 2020 RAF High Wycombe and RAF Halton were announced as the first locations to pilot free Wraparound Childcare (WAC) for eligible Service families, with the second pilot launch planned for eligible Service families in Catterick and Plymouth from January 2021. This will help with before and after school care for service children aged 4 to 11 years old and is in direct response to Service personnel’s feedback. We hope that it will allow our people to know that their children are being cared for so that they are able to focus on their vital work for Defence.

The launch of the WAC pilot will coincide with the academic year in September 2020, when many children are returning to school for the first time after months of disruption. Over the past six months families across the country have had to get to grips with home-schooling their children. At the same time, thousands of our Armed Forces personnel stepped up to serve on the front line in the fight against coronavirus.

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