The UK faces a critical issue regarding homelessness among veterans. Recent figures released by the Ministry of Defence have indicated that in 2022/23 2,110 households have been affected. This is up for 1,850 in 2021/22. This comes despite a government pledge to end homelessness amongst veterans and an £8.8 million investment in the housing fund to support 910 housing placements.
The Telegraph notes that approximately 180 households are currently losing their home every month. The government scheme has housed 400 veterans in the last year. However, this stands again for the 2000 households affected and shows a clear shortfall in the government response to this critical issue. Steve McCabe – Shadow Veterans Minister – accused the government of failing the armed forces community. He pointed out issues around the postcode lottery for veterans and reduced employment support. In addition, the Guardian revealed this month that one in three service personnel were living in accommodation graded with the lowest rating by the Ministry of Defence. The UK has a serious issue regarding housing for veterans and members of the Armed Forces.
Dr Iain Overton, of Action on Armed Violence, criticised the government’s approach saying, “The rising number of homeless veterans is a clear indication of the government’s failure to address the root causes of veteran homelessness. Despite the funding and promises, we are witnessing an alarming increase in veterans without homes, which questions the effectiveness of the current policies. This is not just a housing crisis; it’s a crisis of care and support for those who have served our nation.” Without doubt, this is correct. Homelessness of any kind is a result of a complex range of issues and reflects upon the priorities of society. I have written for this publication before that the most important role of any government is to protect its people. This protection must extend to its social policies, of which housing is critical.
The government response, however, is concerning. Speaking earlier in 2023, Veterans Minister, Johnny Mercer stated “we will end veteran homelessness this year”. However, in response to questioning by David Duguid MP, he chose to focus his response on low numbers of those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness “as a result of having served in the forces”. This is a very narrow, and one would assume carefully chosen, focus that ignores the large number of veterans who still need the support of the government. In the same debate, Patricia Gibson MP noted that the Armed Forces charities had identified that 90% of veterans who try to claim personal independence payment for post-traumatic stress disorder have their applications rejected. Mercer dismissed this as being an issue of the past. He also rejected figures from the Royal British Legion that identified 4,000 homeless veterans across the UK in 2020.
This selection and ignoring of figures must be a concern. When considering support for veterans, it is also important to note that Mercer has identified the use of food banks as a ‘personal decision’ rather than being an issue of necessity for those in need. Coupled with the former Home Secretary’s views that homelessness is a lifestyle choice, these comments raise concerns about the government’s priorities when it comes to supporting veterans.
Further, Citizens Advice and the government largely point veterans seeking housing support towards their local council. These are organisations that are struggling as it is because of having their funding gutted since the Conservatives took power in 2010. The Local Government Association indicates they have seen a 27% real-terms cut in that time, and we have seen a number go bankrupt under the strain placed upon them.
Support and funding need to come from somewhere, and given Mercer scolded MPs back in March in the House of Commons for bringing statistics to scrutinise the operations of government by saying, “If we continue to go around saying that there are lots of homeless veterans when that is not the case, that will be self-defeating as we attempt to make this the best country in which to be a veteran,” there may well be a concern as to whether either of these will come in an effective effort before the next general election.
Featured Image: “Simulated Photo of a Homeless Veteran” – UK Ministry of Defence Imagery, 2024