Today, throughout Scotland, communities, families and individuals will remember and honour the service given to the nation by the men and women of the Armed Forces; both past and present.
Having been prepared by two weeks of media campaigns, it is relatively easy to take this one day to think of them. Military service however, requires a commitment that has to endure for 365 days of each and every year. Sometimes that commitment can exact such a physical and a psychological toll that some leaving the Armed Forces require support not just on this day, but all year round, mirroring the service they gave to the nation.
There is a general consensus that around 95 per cent of former members of the Armed Forces, transition seamlessly back into civilian life, where very many continue to contribute positively in all manner of ways. The remainder, at some time after their military service, may find themselves in a situation or in circumstances in which they require support.
One of the most visible manifestations of this is homelessness. The Scottish Government’s statistics show that in Scotland, between 2007 and 2016, there was a steady decrease in the number of homeless applications by former members of the Armed Forces. Worryingly however, since 2017, that number has risen. There was a 12 per cent increase from the 811 recorded in 2016-17 to 919 in 2017-18. This was followed by a further eight per cent increase to 993 in 2018-19. These figures are likely to be an underestimate. They record only those who have declared themselves homeless to local authorities. There will be others who are sofa-surfing with friends or families, sleeping in their cars, or rough-sleeping. These, along with individuals who for whatever reason have decided not to declare their former military service, will not be included in the figures.
As a charity, we are here to support such veterans, providing warm and safe accommodation for homeless ex-members of the Armed Forces. We facilitate support to address the issues such as poor mental health, addiction and financial hardship that led or contributed to an individual’s homelessness. Our aim is to support them to live as independently as they are able, preferably in their own homes, be that through social housing or other options.
Increasingly though, we are recognising that housing provision on its own may not fully address an individual’s needs or aspirations. Finding sustainable employment for UK military veterans who have experienced homelessness not only improves their overall health and wellbeing, but it also gives them back their sense of worth and the opportunity to once again make a positive contribution to society. We know that military service equips individuals with a range of skills that are readily transferable to many civilian roles and occupations.
With encouragement from the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group for the Armed Forces and Veterans Community, we have begun exploring ways of assisting ex-service members who have been homeless back into employment. We recognise that no one organisation has all the bright ideas. We need the government, the charitable sector and employers to collaborate to develop the delivery model, to create the connections and, where necessary, provide the training. The initial signs are encouraging. A growing number of employers are offering opportunities and a number of ex-service charities have indicated their willingness to participate. By working together we will be able to achieve more for more.
So, if you participated in a commemorative event today, thank you for your support. But please remember that some former members of the Armed Forces will be suffering today for want of a warm and safe home and the opportunity of employment. Their needs will be there tomorrow, the day after and potentially long into the future. We must keep them in our thoughts and give them our support, not just on this one day, but for 365 days of each and every year.
Brigadier (Retired) Martin Nadin is the Chief Executive of Scottish Veterans’ Residences