This Saturday is Armed Forces Day. In any normal year, we would be holding a big event in the town centre to mark the day which, along with all the pomp and circumstance, would give people the chance to express their gratitude to all those who have served and highlight local support available for both veterans and those currently in the forces.
As with so many things, the restrictions necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 prevents a physical event this year, other than a brief flag raising attended by the Mayor and representatives of the services. Yet, at its core Armed Forces Day isn’t about really about bunting and marching, it’s about all of us taking the time to think about those either currently in service or who have previously served, and we don’t need a physical event to do that.
The truth is that, for all the warm words offered by Number 10, our veterans are being let down. Half of veterans are now aged over 75, falling into the age group hit hardest by the Government’s decision to discharge COVID-19 patients into care homes without appropriate safeguards, a decision which has cost over 16,000 lives, more than double all the British armed forces deaths in every conflict since the Second World War.
For younger veterans, the struggle to access housing, and physical and mental health support in a system hollowed out by a decade of cuts is leaving many desperate with nowhere to go. It should be a source of national shame that over 6,000 former service men and women are homeless, and 10,000 have ended up in the prison system.
Even for those still serving the future looks bleak, with the military already reduced to a record low size and a £13bn shortfall in its 10 year equipment budget, drawing a line under the UK’s time on the world stage.
As a country we often talk about how proud we are of our armed forces and the importance of standing by them, but how far do we really mean it when we allow our Government to continuously let them down so badly.